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Financial Aid: What is it? How to apply?

Vania Silva

Masters Student, School Counseling, San Diego State University

What is Financial Aid? 

Financial aid is money meant to help students pay for college. Financial aid can come from various sources: federal government, state government, your college, or private sources. In order to see if you are eligible for federal financial aid, students must complete the official FAFSA application. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is free to fill out and submit. Eligibility requirements for federal financial aid can be found here. FAFSA deadlines can be found here, but also make sure to ask your college for their deadlines to submit the FAFSA.The information and documents needed when filling out the FAFSA are listed here. You will then send the FAFSA to all colleges you applied to. They will use your FAFSA information to calculate the type of aid you are eligible for and how much you are eligible for- this will come to you as your financial aid award letter. This is also a yearly process, you will have to complete the FAFSA every year to continue to receive financial aid. 

What is an award letter?

Award letter example:

The award letter arrives around the time of your acceptance letter. It shows the Estimated Cost of Attendance for one year at your college. This is an estimate of how much one year at your college will cost taking into consideration various expenses such as tuition & fees, room & board, books and supplies, travel costs, and miscellaneous items. It then breaks down the type of aid you will receive that year. In terms of aid, you may find loans, grants, scholarships, and federal work study. Aid is divided by semester or trimester, depending on which system calendar your school follows. Once you accept a college, you must go through and accept or decline aid. You can accept or decline each type of aid individually. The types of aid you may want to decline, if you are able, are loans since this is money that must be paid back with interest. 

Reasons why you may want to decline aid: 

  • If you have received outside scholarships (scholarships not listed on the financial aid award letter) to cover expenses 
  • You have a college savings account or financial support from family with which you are able to cover your expenses