About.com has compiled 10 friendly financial aid facts written specifically for non-traditional students.
Don’t let money stop you from reaching your personal, educational, and career goals. Money for college is available for everyone.
1. Every Student is Eligible for Financial Aid for College: Applying for financial aid is your first step in returning to school. Every student attending a college or university (public or private) in the U.S. is eligible to apply for federal financial aid. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been out of school.
2. It Doesn’t Cost Anything: Don’t pay anybody to help you find financial aid. Free help is available at the US government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website or from any college or university financial aid office. All you have to do is ask.
3. It is Imperative that You Start Early: Looking for financial aid is your first step in the college admissions process. Start early because applications take time to process. The paper version of the FAFSA application takes four to six weeks to process. Don’t let that be what holds you back from starting back to school.
4. Your School’s Financial Aid Office is there to Help You: Every college or university has a financial aid office. Call and make an appointment or drop in to see how they can help you return to school. Their services are free, they’re experienced, and they want you to succeed.
5. You’re Going to Need Your Tax Statements: Most aid is based on financial need. Your tax statements tell the people who disburse the funding how much you make and how much money you’ll need to make school a reality. If you haven’t filed taxes, you’ll need to prove how you earn money.
6. The FAFSA Must be Filled Out Online at Many Universities: The days of paper applications are gone at many universities. The best way to apply for FAFSA is online. You can do it yourself at the FAFSA website. You can also get help from the financial aid office at your school. You may have to fill it out online there, too, but they’ll be available to help if you get stuck or have questions.
7. Some Scholarships Don’t Have Applicants: Believe it or not, there are scholarships available every year that nobody applies for, which is a shame. Apply for every scholarship you can find and that you’re qualified for, even if they’re worth small amounts. Scholarships add up, and they don’t have to be paid back. Be aware that some scholarships do carry academic standards, so be sure to keep your grades up!
8. It Pays to be Persistent: You know the adage: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Be persistent. If you have asked the financial aid office for help and haven’t heard back; call them. Keep calling. They’re not ignoring you, they’re just very busy. If your name is in front of them, you’ll get the help you need.
9. Financial Aid Pays for all Kinds of Expenses: Financial aid is intended to pay for tuition, school fees, and books. But after that, you can use it to pay for anything else — tutoring, transportation, child care, utilities, and food, whatever expenses you might have beyond school. Again, be aware that there might be restrictions on how you spend some of your financial aid money, especially scholarships.
10. Pell Grants and Scholarships Don’t Need to be Repaid: Your first choices for financial aid should be Pell grants (those are from the U.S. government that are received through FAFSA don’t need to be paid back) and scholarships. Free is good, right?
Student loans do need to be repaid and are obtained through FAFSA. Take a loan only if you can’t get other financial aid. Student loans can pile up quickly and be daunting when the bills come due.