Paying for College & Financial Aid
How to Pay for College
Complete the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form completed by current and prospective college students to determine their eligibility for student financial aid.
The U.S. Department of Education, which collects and processes your FAFSA, will use your individual and family financial information to determine how much you can put toward college costs, and therefore how much financial aid you qualify for. Every student should complete a FAFSA regardless of your family income level.
Submitting the FAFSA gives you the opportunity to receive federal grants, work-study funds and loans that can make it possible to afford college. Many states and colleges use your FAFSA to distribute their own financial aid, too.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is a free form that both college students and their parent - if they are a dependent student—submit as the first step in the financial aid process. You should first complete a FAFSA early in your senior year of high school; to maintain eligibility for federal student aid, you must renew your FAFSA annually.
You will list up to 10 schools you would like to attend on your digital FAFSA (up to four on the paper version). Each school will receive a copy of your form to determine how much they are able to offer. NOTE: money is first come, first serve! It is in your best interest to complete your FAFSA as soon as it come available.
If you are interested in state financial aid, your state may require you to list at least one state college, and sometimes, to list schools in a certain order on your FAFSA. In Florida, you must list an eligible in-state college to be considered for state grant aid. The order in which you list the colleges will not impact your eligibility for state aid programs in Florida.
The paper version of the FAFSA is about eight pages. If you have your information together, most FAFSA applications can be completed in 45 minutes or less. It is much easier to complete the form online where you can download your tax return information directly from the IRS. Visit www.FAFSA.ed.gov to complete your FAFSA online. NOTE: there is NO COST to file a FAFSA online.
How Does FAFSA Determine My Financial Need?
The FAFSA uses your financial information—and that of your parents if you’re a dependent student—to determine whether you qualify for certain types of federal student aid. The FAFSA uses financial data to determine your expected family contribution, or EFC, and subtracts it from your college’s published cost of attendance. The cost of attendance is the total cost to attend college. This includes tuition, books, room, and board.
For instance, if you plan to attend a school with a cost of attendance of $20,000 per year and your EFC is $5,000, your financial need is $15,000. You’ll could be awarded a combination of need-based aid, such as Pell Grants, subsidized loans and work-study funds, that adds up to that amount.
In certain circumstances, you’ll automatically receive an EFC of zero, meaning your family isn’t expected to contribute at all to college costs. That happens, for instance, if you’re a dependent student and your parents earn $26,000 or less per year, and anyone in your household received certain federal benefits, your parents didn’t have to file income taxes or one of your parents is a dislocated worker.
The following data points are used to determine how much you and your family can pay in college costs:
Income information from your tax return—for you and your parents, if applicable—from two years prior to the school year you’re seeking financial aid for. (For 2021-22, you’ll supply tax returns from 2019.) If your family’s income has changed markedly since then, let your school know.
Untaxed income you or your parents received, such as child support or interest income
Cash, bank account balances, business assets and investments you or your parents currently hold, including 529 plans and custodial savings accounts
The number of people in your household
The number of children in your family currently attending college
What Types of Financial Aid Can the FAFSA Get You?
Some types of federal loans, like subsidized direct loans, are for students with exceptional financial need. (The government pays the interest on these loans during certain periods.) But other types, like unsubsidized direct loans and PLUS loans, are available to everyone who submits a FAFSA. Compared with private student loans, which are provided by banks, credit unions and online lenders, federal student loans have lower interest rates and more generous repayment terms.
When is the Deadline?
The FAFSA is available starting Oct. 1 each year for the following school year. While it may appear that you have a long time to complete the form, submit as soon as possible after Oct. 1. That’s because state and college deadlines can be far earlier than June 30, 2021, and the sooner you apply for student aid, the more likely it is you’ll get certain types. Work-study funds, for instance, are commonly distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Since schools have a limited amount of money to disburse, you could lose out if you submit the FAFSA too late.
For more information, visit How Financial Aid Works.
Use Grants if You Quality
Federal grants don’t need to be repaid. The Pell Grant, for instance, is for undergraduate students with financial need.
What is a Pell Grant?
Federal Pell Grants usually are awarded only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree. For the 2020-21 school year, the maximum you could receive is $6,345.
Get a Work-Study Job
What is Federal Work-Study?
Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. Full-time or part-time students may qualify. The program encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of study.
Take Out a Federal Loan
Before taking out a federal loan, please do your research on the differences between subsidized loan and unsubsidized loan.
Some types of federal loans, like subsidized direct loans, are for students with exceptional financial need. (The government pays the interest on these loans during certain periods.)
But other types, like unsubsidized direct loans and PLUS loans, are available to everyone who submits a FAFSA. Compared with private student loans, which are provided by banks, credit unions and online lenders, federal student loans have lower interest rates and more generous repayment terms.
Each state has its own higher education agency that typically also awards financial aid to residents. Some state financial aid application forms are integrated with the FAFSA, so that after you submit the application, you’ll automatically be directed to your state’s form. You’ll then be eligible for state grants that don’t have to be paid back.
The Florida Prepaid College Plan allows participants to prepay future tuition and most fees via either installments or a lump-sum payment. The program also offers dormitory plans. As with other prepaid plans, once you're locked into a program, you don't have to worry about the performance of the stock market or the rising cost of inflation, as the FPCP is guaranteed by the state of Florida.
Search for Scholarships
Each high school guidance counselor has supplied list of local scholarship opportunities.