I am a high school junior and an Upward Bound scholar. I do not
have any way to pay for college and I really want to attend. How do I
apply for financial aid? What are the requirements? Do I have to pay
for anything? What advice do you have for me if I do receive
— Alexis M.
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Fastweb is your connection to scholarships, financial aid & more.
Financial aid for college may seem complicated, with an entire
language of cryptic acronyms like FAFSA, SAR and EFC, but there are only a
few simple steps you need to take to apply for financial aid.
There are two main types of financial aid, merit-based aid and
need-based aid. Scholarships and merit-based aid are awarded based on
academic, athletic or artistic talent, or other criteria of interest
to the scholarship sponsor. Need-based aid is based on financial need,
the difference between college costs and your ability to pay.
To find merit-based aid, register for free at Fastweb.com to search
for scholarships that match your background. There are scholarships
available for students at all grade levels, including grades K-12 and
current college students, so the sooner you start searching for
scholarships, the more you will find. When completing your personal background profile on Fastweb, take the
time to review all of the choices in the optional questions. Students
who answer the optional questions match twice as many scholarships, on
average, as students who answer just the required questions. The
Fastweb scholarship matching service is updated daily, and you will
receive email notification when there is a new scholarship that
matches your personal background profile. The Fastweb and FinAid sites
To apply for need-based aid, submit the Free Application for Federal
Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA, as soon as possible after
October 1 of your senior year in high school. This form is used to
apply for student financial aid from the federal and state government
as well as for financial aid from most public and private colleges and
universities. The FAFSA is submitted annually. (A Renewal FAFSA will
be submitted during your freshman, sophomore and junior years in
If you have questions about completing the FAFSA, there are several
sources of free help. The US Department of Education's Federal Student
Aid Information Center operates a toll-free hotline at 1-800-4-FED-AID
(1-800-433-3243). You can ask your high school guidance counselor or
the financial aid administrator at a local college for help.
There is also information and advice in the FAFSA section of FinAid
and in the FAFSA articles on Fastweb
These days almost everybody submits the FAFSA online, at
. If you do not
have a computer, ask your high school or local public library if
there's a computer you can use. Otherwise, call 1-800-4-FED-AID and
they can send you a printed version of the form. The online form is
better, since it is a "smart" adaptive form that will skip unnecessary
questions and detect the most common errors.
Your college may also have its own supplemental form. About 250 mostly
private colleges use a form known as the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE
form. This form is similar to the FAFSA, but typically asks more
detailed questions. You can find this form online at profileonline.collegeboard.com
(Note that there is no "www" as part of this web site's address.)
You will receive a "financial aid award letter" from the colleges
after you've submitted the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. This
letter will summarize the types and amounts of financial aid you will
receive. The financial aid will include gift aid that does not need to
be repaid, such as grants like the Pell Grant. It will also include
self-help aid, such as loans and work-study.
The prospect of taking on debt to pay for college can be frightening,
especially if you will be borrowing more money than your parents earn
in a year. You should try to minimize your debt, because every dollar
you spend using student loan money will cost you about two dollars by
the time you've paid off the debt. One of the best ways of minimizing
debt is to enroll at a less expensive college, such as an in-state
public college. But so long as you don't borrow excessively and you
major in a field of study with good job prospects, you should be able
to repay the debt after graduation.
There are also a handful of financial aid programs that are available
to you when you file a federal income tax return. These include the
Hope Scholarship Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit and the
Tuition and Fees Deduction. You should file a federal income tax
return to obtain these education tax benefits even if you are not
required to file a return. The Hope Scholarship, for example, is
partially refundable, so you can benefit even if you have no tax
After you get your financial aid package, review the requirements for
keeping each source of funding. In most cases you will have to get
good grades or you might lose the money. Some scholarships are
renewable and may require a renewal application, academic transcripts
or other requirements for you to keep the scholarship in subsequent
Finally, beware of scholarship scams and other financial aid scams. If
you have to pay money to get money, it's probably a scam. Never invest
more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships or to
apply for a scholarship.
Can I start applying for financial aid when I am a 10th grader in
— Cierra B.
You will have to wait until October 1 of your senior year in high
school to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
(FAFSA). However, you can and should start searching for scholarships
immediately, as there are many scholarships available to students in
grades 9, 10 and 11, not just grade 12. These scholarships can be
found in the Fastweb scholarships database.
If you are under age 13, you won't be able to search the online
scholarship databases because of the Children's Online Privacy
Protection Act (COPPA). However, a list of scholarships for children
under age 13 can be found on FinAid at www.finaid.org/age13
You should also save as much as you can for your college education,
because every dollar you save is a dollar less you will need to
borrow. Encourage your parents to save for your college education in a
section 529 college savings plan. These are tax-advantaged ways of
saving for college, similar in concept to a Roth IRA and other
retirement plans. Every state offers one, and you can save in any
state's 529 plan. More than 30 states offer a state income tax
deduction for contributions to the state's 529 plan. It is best to use
the direct-sold version of the state's 529 plan, as the fees are lower
than in an advisor-sold plan. Choose the age-based asset allocation
within the state plan to minimize the risk of stock market
losses. This shifts the funds to a more conservative mix of
investments as college approaches, reducing the risk of loss to principal.