According to the Social Security Administration, men with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. What’s more, women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more, men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more, and women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.
These higher earnings come at a high cost though. In its 2020 report “Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid,” the College Board reported that a moderate college budget for an in-state student attending a four-year public college in 2020-2021 averaged $26,820. For out-of-state students at public colleges, the average budget came to $43,280, and for students attending private colleges, the average budget was $54,880.
Here is some good news: the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) provides more than $120 billion in federal aid to help with college or career school expenses each year. Getting access to some of that money starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FASFA. Although you don’t have to fill it out to get some forms of aid, the FAFSA is widely used by national, state, and local government agencies as well as many higher education institutions and private organizations to award financial aid.
Studentaid.gov has created an easy-to-follow infographic to walk you through the FASFA process. Keep in mind that you’re encouraged to start the process early to give yourself plenty of time to gather the documents and other information you need and meet the filing deadlines at the various schools you’re applying to.
The process starts by creating an FSA ID, a username and password combination that allows you to access the myStudentAid app, sign your FAFSA form electronically, sign loan contracts, and access other important information online. If you’re a dependent student, one of your parents whose information is reported on the FAFSA form will also need an FSA ID so that he or she can sign your application electronically.
There are a variety of financial aid sources from federal, state, school, and private entities that can help you pay for college or career school. Among the most common are:
- Grants – These are a form of financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid, unless, for example, you withdraw from school and owe a refund.
- Scholarships – Many nonprofit and private organizations offer “free money” which are often based on academic merit, talent, or a particular area of study.
- Work-study jobs – These programs allow you to earn money that you can use to pay for your education by working part-time at your school.
- Loans – These enable you to borrow money to attend school but must be repaid with interest that accrues.
- Aid for Military Families – These are special aid programs for those serving in the military or the spouse or child of a service member or a veteran.
You can check out this video to learn more about the different types of federa aid.
So, why are we writing about the FAFSA now? Because October 1st was the first day to begin filling out the application for the 2022-2023 academic year. It’s important to focus on the deadlines for submitting your application. Studentaid.gov offers a guide to the various deadlines, but you should also know the deadlines of the various institutions you are applying to because their deadlines may be different.
Another tool to help you get financial aid is the CSS/Financial Aid Profile (CSS Profile). More than 200 colleges use it to determine who qualifies for institutional grants and scholarships. Like the FAFSA, it is used to assess your family’s income and assets to calculate your expected family contribution (EFC). It is primarily used by private schools. Unlike the FAFSA which is free, there are minor costs associated with the CSS Profile. Experts recommend that you definitely should file the FAFSA to help you qualify for federal aid and file the CSS Profile if a school you are applying to requires it.
Sounds like a lot, right? But starting early, getting all your documentation together, and knowing your deadlines can make it a lot easier. And to help with your college search, you can head to College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics. It allows you to identify institutions to consider based on costs, majors offered, location, and other selection criteria. Finally, you can always reach out to a financial professional to learn more about paying for college.
Good luck everyone!