Student Loans

A Primer for Student Financial Aid

For anyone who is attending or been through college, one of the more harrowing experiences may have been going through the process and paperwork of receiving student financial aid.  At times, it may have felt like the same piece of paper was filled out dozens of times and deadlines all seemed to cram together.  Below is an overall idea of the process for getting the process of receiving financial aid.

First, begin looking for information about loans and deadlines at the beginning of the senior year of high school, if not the summer preceding it.  Make sure to register for the Selective Service as well, as all student financial aid requires registration.  Get all necessary information and deadlines before Halloween.  Sit down with your guidance counselor at school and see what information they have available.  Schedule out all deadlines and start filling out paperwork, even if it is not to be sent in for some time.

Second, if you have already chosen a school (or have narrowed it down to a few choices), contact their financial aid office so that you can get whatever information you need for scholarships and financial aid.  Also, if you have picked a major, contact the department for your major directly in case there is some department-specific financial aid available (I received a scholarship directly through the History Department as an undergraduate).

Third, complete the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA), so that all your paperwork is ready to go and you are in line for whatever money is available.  Sallie Mae – the government agency which disperses financial aid – recommends completing the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st.  A FAFSA should be filled out every year you are in school.  Any financial aid can be declined, so filling out the FAFSA does not obligate a student to borrowing any money.  Head over to for complete details about applying for student aid.  Even though the deadlines for state and federal FAFSA applications can be well into the spring, do NOT wait until the last minute to file.

Fourth, if you believe you still may need further student aid, some further financial assistance may be directly available through your local bank or credit union.  Many places of employment may also have scholarship programs or other assistance for children of employees.

The main point of getting financial aid is to begin all application processes early.  Some – such as the FAFSA – may require tax information, but there is plenty of paperwork to fill out beforehand.  Applying for financial aid is NOT something which should be done at the last minute, because some funds are awarded during the process, and not necessarily after all applications are received.  Also, there is a LOT of paperwork to be filled out to receive financial aid, and it is not something which can be done in a couple of hours the day before a due date.