Student aid falls into two categories:
Need-based (grants, loans, work study) - Relates to your financial circumstances. Grants do not have to be paid back. Student loans will have to be paid back, while work study funds are earned and paid in the form of a paycheck to the student.
Merit-based (scholarships) - Relates to academic, athletic or other skills. Scholarships do not have to be paid back.
FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid
No matter what your circumstance, you need to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Nearly 95% of all student aid flows through the institution that you attend and requires you to submit the FAFSA form in order to gain access to all types of funding—this includes scholarships and grants that you may not even know about. As the name implies, it is free. Generally speaking, there is no need to pay anyone to assist you in preparing the FAFSA.
The federal government has simplified the process this year! As of October 1, 2017 you can submit your FAFSA for the fall of 2018 by going to http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ to create your account and fill out the application. The new system is commonly called “prior-prior” because you will submit based on income earned in 2016 which was filed on the 2017 taxes. This means that the taxes being used to determine eligibility have already been filed.
Create an account: Get started by entering the student’s FSA ID or personal information to create an account. If you do not already have an FSA ID, you can create an FSA ID. The FSA ID allows students and parents to identify themselves electronically to access FSA web sites. An FSA ID is made up of a username and password and while you are not required to have an FSA ID to complete and submit a FAFSA application, it is the fastest way to sign your application and have it processed. It is also the only way to access or correct your information online, or to pre-fill a FAFSA application with information from your previous year’s FAFSA.
Gather required information: You’ll need to provide some information on your application, including: your social security number and your parents’ social security number (if you are providing parent information); your driver’s license number if you have one; Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen; and federal tax information including W-2 information.
Use the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet: The step is optional, but it will help you collect the necessary info you’ll need to file your FAFSA online.
Complete your application: Enter all necessary information. If you need help, there are help links on each application page. Make sure to indicate your preference to forward your information to the schools that you are interested in. You are allowed to go back and add schools at a later date.
Submit your application: You’ll get a confirmation number - hang on to it!
Follow up on your FAFSA: If you don’t hear anything within three weeks, login to your FAFSA on the Web account and select “Check the Status of a Submitted FAFSA.” You will receive an email with a link to your “Student Aid Report” (SAR) which you should review for any necessary corrections or updates.