Guide to Federal Student Aid
This section is a
quick reference to federal student aid programs and how to apply for aid. The rest of the publication provides
more detail of what you need to know as you go through the federal student aid process.
What is federal
It’s financial help
for eligible students to pay for education expenses at an eligible postsecondary school (e.g., college,
vocational school, graduate school). There are three categories of federal student aid: grants, workstudy, and
loans. Check with your school to find out which program(s) it participates in.
Federal student aid
covers such expenses as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. Aid also can
help pay for other related expenses, such as a
computer and for
dependent care. Who receives federal student aid?
Our most basic
eligibility requirements are that you must
• be a U.S. citizen
or an eligible noncitizen,
• have a valid Social
• register (if you
haven’t already) with Selective Service,
if you’re a male
between the ages of 18 and 25,
satisfactory academic progress in postsecondary
• show you’re
qualified to obtain a postsecondary education by
`` having a high
school diploma or General Educational
`` completing a high
school education in a homeschool setting
approved under state
`` passing an
approved ability-to-benefit test (if you don’t
have a diploma or
GED, a school can administer a test to
determine whether you
can benefit from the education
offered at that
completing six credit hours or equivalent course work toward a degree or certificate; or
meeting other federally approved standards your state establishes.
How do I apply for federal
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM).
FAFSA on the Web, go to www.fafsa.gov. Using FAFSA on the Web is faster and easier than using paper. If you need
a paper FAFSA, you can download a PDF from www.fafsa.gov or order one from the Federal Student Aid Information
Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
can apply beginning Jan. 1, 2011; for the 2011–12 academic year and have until June 30, 2012, to submit your
FAFSA. But you need to apply early! Schools and states often use FAFSA information to award nonfederal aid.
Their deadlines are usually early in the year. You can find state deadlines at FAFSAon the Web or on the paper
FAFSA. Check with the schools you’re interested in for their deadlines.
Review your Student Aid Report (SAR).
you apply, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR. Your SAR contains the information reported on your FAFSA
and usually includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is an index used to determine your
eligibility for federal student aid. Review your SAR information and make any corrections or changes, if
necessary. The school(s) you list on your FAFSA will get your SAR data electronically.
Contact the school(s) you might attend.
sure the financial aid office at each school you’re interested in has all the information needed to determine
your eligibility. If you’re eligible, each school’s financial aid office will send you an award letter showing
the amount and types of aid (from all sources) the school will offer you. You can compare award letters from the
schools to which you applied and see what aid you can receive from each school.
amount and type of federal aid the U.S. Departmentof Education provides doesn’t always depend solely on
financial need. Once students apply for aid, many are surprised by the amount of aid they receive. So a good
rule of thumb is: Don’t assume you’re not eligible. Take the time to complete and submit the Free Application
for Federal Student Aid—the FAFSASM.
Why Should I Invest in an
I Get a Job Now?
maybe you could, but a college degree will make your chances even better. Over a working life, a person with a
bachelor’s degree will earn almost twice as much as someone with just a high school diploma. Higher education
equates to more job options and higher earnings. Check out the earnings and unemployment rates for people 25
years and older with different levels of education in table 2. The more education you have, the more you
we refer to “school” in this guide, we mean a two-year or four-year public or private college or university, or
a career or trade school.
Choosing the Right
type of school is right for me? If you can’t decide where to go to school or need help planning for college,
talk to your school counselor or visit www.studentaid.ed.gov and click on “Choosing a School.” Here you can
learn more about the types of schools available in the field you interested in, start comparing schools, and
learn how to assess them. You can even create a personal portfolio at www.studentaid.ed.gov/myfsa to keep track
of your college search and access other U.S. Department of Education databases with detailed college information
and career options.
should I consider?
Does the school offer the courses and type of program I want?
I meet the admissions requirements?
Does the school offer a high-quality education?
Does the school participate in Federal Student Aid programs?
Does the school offer services I need and activities I’m interested in?
Remember to carefully evaluate all
relevant aspects of the schools you’re considering. Just because a school participates in our federal student
aid programs doesn’t mean we’ve endorsed the quality of education the school offers. We don’t approve a school’s
curricula, policies, or administrative practices, except as they relate to the administration of our federal
student aid programs.
can I find this information about college?
Read the school’s catalog or introductory materials.
Visit the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator at
Talk with students who currently attend or have attended the school you’re considering to get their opinion of
Check the school’s website.
Visit the reference section of your local library.
Talk to high school counselors.
Contact your State Higher Education Agency; find information at
URL is case-sensetive).
Check to see if any complaints about the school have been filed with the local Better Business Bureau or the
consumer protection division of the state attorney general’s office. Search for Better Business Bureau offices
at www.bbb.org. If you suspect fraud, waste, or
abuse involving federal student aid (Pell Grants, Direct Loans, etc.) or if you believe that school personnel
have misrepresented any aspect of the educational program or its costs, you should call the Inspector General
Hotline at 1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-3387). You’re paying for a high quality education—make sure you get
Take the next
Before enrolling, make appointments
to visit the colleges or career schools you’re considering. Bring a list of questions to ask school
representatives. Your education is a major investment, so find out as much information as you can before you
additional information should I get from a school?
about the school’s accreditation, licensing, and student campus security.
Find out the school’s loan default rate (the percentage of students who have attended the school, taken out
federal student loans, and failed to repay their loans on time). You might not be able to get aid from some of
our programs at a school that has a high default rate.
Find out the school’s job placement rates (the percentage of students who are placed in jobs relevant to their
courses of study).
the school advertises its job placement rates, it also must publish:
the most recent employment statistics,
graduation statistics, and
any other information necessary to back up its claims.
information must be made available at the time you apply for admission to the school. Make sure you get the
information you need and check out all of your options as you prepare for education after high school. It’s
never too early to get started pursuing an education, so don’t wait until the last minute to get started! Know
what to expect from the schools you’re considering. Find out about financial aid at the school,You have the
right to receive the following information from the school
location, hours, and counseling procedures for the school’s financial aid office.
financial aid assistance available, including federal, state, local, private, and institutional financial aid
procedures and deadlines for submitting applications for each available financial aid program.
school’s criteria for selecting financial aid recipients.