Student Loans

Maybe you’ve always dreamed of becoming a lawyer, doctor or mechanical engineer. Maybe you’ve always had a burning desire to learn all there is to know about medieval history. Or maybe, like the lead character in the now-defunct television drama "Felicity," you simply want to follow a leftover crush from high school in the hopes of pursuing a relationship. Whatever your reason, attending college is a wonderful, commendable investment in your future. The only problem is, it costs money!

Feeling chagrin about not having gotten a scholarship to college? Don’t worry! There are several student loan options available to you. One such option is federal government student loans. Financial Student Aid (FSA) programs are government-funded and allow students to borrow money to fund tuition, books, housing, relocation and other miscellaneous costs during their college years. Students in the U.S who are seeking federal financial aid to fund their college education must fill out a form called a FAFSA, (a Free Application for Financial Student Aid). These forms are available online in both English and in Spanish.

The application will ask you for your personal contact information, income level, marital status, parents’ income, proposed program of study and more. You will also have to confirm that you are eligible to receive a government loan.

The FAFSA will determine your eligibility for several types of student aid, including:

  • Loans
  • Grants
  • Work-Study Positions
  • Non-federal student aid

Student Eligibility

Once you have filled out a FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education uses the information you have provided to determine whether or not you are eligible for a loan from the FSA programs. Rule number one for eligibility is, you must be a citizen of the country or state issuing the loan, or if you are an "eligible" non-citizen. An eligible non-citizen is usually a landed immigrant or refugee. Note that federal government loans are usually not available to students without one of these three designations. However, these students may be eligible for state government loans, or for loans from their college.

Many states and colleges use the information in the FAFSA to determine the students to whom they will administer financial aid. Some states and schools may ask you to fill out additional forms.

In addition to citizenship/eligible noncitizen requirements, the FSA programs require that applicants:

  • Possess a valid Social Security Number
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or achieve a passing score on an approved "ability to benefit" examination
  • Enroll in an eligible program as a regular student pursuing a degree or certificate;
  • Register (or have registered) for Selective Service, an agency that provides additional manpower to the U.S. Armed Forces in the event of an emergency, with a result of Eligible or Partially Eligible on Question 31 re: Drug Conviction (Note: this condition applies only to male FSA applicants between the ages of 18-25)

Tips on getting your Student Loan ASAP

  • Read the FAFSA form carefully. Certain words (for example, "household," "parent" and "investments" have very specific definitions in the FAFSA context. Read all the fine print to ensure you answer each question correctly).
  • Contact school officials regarding any unique family situations you may be in.
  • Apply early, as close to January 1 as possible. End of June is typically the deadline for applications to be processed in time for the upcoming school year. However, the U.S. Department of Education will not process your application until it has received your correct enrollment information, so be sure to give both you and your school enough time to make any necessary corrections.
  • Fill our your tax return first, if possible. This will make it easier for you to complete the FAFSA. Make sure the information on both forms matches. Otherwise, you will have to return any aid that you have been over-awarded. However, note that you do not HAVE to fill out your tax return first. It is simply a recommendation, as it will make your own paperwork easier to complete.
  • Fill out a FAFSA online. This is the fastest method of application. As well, the form will catch any mistakes or fields left blank before you submit it.
  • Fill out all additional forms required by your school. Though many schools and states will look at your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for financial aid, some schools may want you to fill out additional forms. The deadline for these forms might be earlier than the FAFSA deadline.

So, I’ve Filled out the FAFSA…. What’s Next?

Once your FAFSA has been submitted, your responses to the questions are plugged into a formula determined by the amended Higher Education Act of 1965. This formula will determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is a measure of your family’s financial ability, which in turn determines your eligibility for federal student aid. Your responses may also be used by your state and/or school to determine your eligibility for additional aid. Your EFC will be sent to you through a Student Aid Report, sent to you either by mail or made available online. Be sure to review this report, and to make any necessary change or corrections.

Remember also to contact your school with any special circumstances that should be taken into consideration. For example, you may have huge medical bills one year, or a sudden change in household income.

Getting your Federal Student Loan

The information you list in the FAFSA, as well as your EFC, along with the rest of your FAFSA information, is made available to all the schools you list in Step Six of the FAFSA. Financial need is determined by calculating the difference between your EFC and your school’s cost of attendance, including living expenses. as determined by the school. The schools use your EFC to prepare you a financial aid package to help reduce this difference.

Your school will administer any financial aid for which you’re eligible. Most schools first apply the aid to pay off your tuition, other student fees, and residence (if provided by the school). The remainder of the money will be given to you to pay off any other expenses you may have.

Education Scams

The U.S. Department of Education warns against agencies that charge you money to submit your FAFSA or to help you get financial aid. Your school and the Department of Education offer all the assistance you will need, for free.