There is a lot of buzz when you are going to college about financial aid. Here’s some advice from a college student on what they remember about their journey with financial aid, and some additional information that might help you head into your college journey with a bigger bank of knowledge. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of Financial Aid is: “money that is given or lent to students in order to help pay for their education.” Financial aid then comes in many forms, such as gift aid from a university or organization, gift aid from a charity, and borrowed aid from the government at the state, local and federal level. One of the most important sources of aid from the government is from filling out the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA determines a lot of things, from how much you can borrow in loans to how much your parents can afford to help you pay. Its application window opens October 1st, and based on your or your parent’s taxes and a few other things, you can qualify for some of the government’s funds for your education. There’s a list of qualifications posted on the official FAFSA website, along with several Frequently Asked Questions that can help you and your parents fill out the FAFSA, whether you are a first time applicant or if you are returning for a second, third, or fourth year. You will receive a SAR, or a Student Aid Report, and from there you can see if you qualify for any governmental aid. Something to also consider is that if you apply for early decision by committing to your college before a general deadline, they might increase your financial aid package or gift aid. I’m not sure if I applied for early decision, but there isn’t any harm in doing so if you know exactly where you are heading for college. Another really important thing that is invaluable to consider is the aid package from the community college, university, or prospective college(s). When I sent my application to my university, they responded with an acceptance letter and a lot of official paperwork for new students, including a list of scholarships and a mock-up of an unofficial aid package. The paperwork included prospective scholarships I could apply for, competitive and non-competitive, and their requirements and amounts. After I confirmed I was attending, they sent me an official aid letter to discuss how much I would be getting in my aid package versus the cost of attending their university. It included some gift aid, some automatic scholarships, and what I would be paying if I took out a loan versus if I didn’t take out any loans for the school year. They also took into consideration the FAFSA and my EFC, the Expected Family Contribution that was determined by my FAFSA, to put together my aid package for the next four years. There were stipulations that came with some of the scholarships I was awarded, but other than your academic performance while at university, there are no stipulations whatsoever to any gift aid - you don’t have to repay it, and it can help with class costs and more. There is also a tip floating around that if you ask, some colleges might add more to your aid package if you ask. In my case, that was not true, but it never hurts to ask in case you can get more financial aid to attend your school of choice. Another piece of the proverbial financial aid pie is aid from charities or private organizations. This basically means scholarships from both entities. There are generally requirements wherever the scholarship comes from, so make sure to check whether or not you qualify before applying. Fastweb has many articles, even some written by your Student Contributors, about finding, applying, and winning scholarships, so be sure to check out those on Fastweb’s website! Most scholarships are either based on how well you do in school or if you need the financial help, but some are both grades and need. Now, the last thing that I will talk about in relation to financial aid is loans. Just to clarify, loans are not gift aid, and you will have to pay them back at some point after or during your academic career. I don’t have much experience with loans in general, but I know there are two types. There are subsidized and unsubsidized loans. The difference? Subsidized loans, according to this page from the U.S Department of Education, are financial need-based loans that have a six-month interest grace period after you graduate from your college or other education, with said interest that is paid each year by the government and for six months after you graduate on the loans you take out, and during a postponement period. Unsubsidized loans are not financial need-based, have no six-month interest grace period, and you have to pay the interest yourself while you are in school. I looked it up, and I’m still unsure what some of this means for you readers, so maybe with a little more digging or some advice from a counselor or financial aid office, it might make a bit more sense. There are also a lot of Frequently Asked Questions’s about loans on the U.S. Department of Education page that is linked above that answers some questions I was having as I was trying to understand my loans. So, as a recap, make sure to fill out the FAFSA every year for college, look into finding scholarships, double check your financial aid package with your school, know what kind of loan you are going to take out if you have to, and don’t be afraid of looking into financial aid!