Applying for College Financial Aid

There are many different types of colleges, all with different types of academic programs, campus environments, and degree requirements.  It is important to first figure out a few basics about the type of college you want before you apply.

Photo by Julia M. Cameron

Ask yourself if you want:

  • A two-year to four-year school
  • Somewhere close to home, or farther away
  • A campus that is in located in a busy city, suburb, or rural area
  • A college with a large student body, or a smaller population
  • What programs that school offers

Once you answer these questions, begin researching the colleges you want to attend.  It is good to have between 5-15 colleges and a couple of safety schools to fall back on.

When you have your list of schools you want to apply to, begin by researching admission requirements.

Requirements typically include:

  • A minimum ACT or SAT score
  • A minimum GPA for all high school classes
  • Completion of a certain number of core classes in high school (ie: 4 years of math, 3 years of science)
  • An application including essays or personal statements
  • An application fee (contact the school for a fee waiver)
  • Completed applications submitted by the deadline posted online

Every college will have a different admissions process, and evaluate applications differently.  Most colleges want an applicant who is well rounded, someone who has participated in a variety of clubs, organizations, and jobs.  They are also looking for someone who can show improvement.  Your grades junior and senior year will play a larger impact than those in your freshman and sophomore years.  The personal statement or essay is something almost all colleges require for admission.  It is your opportunity to explain what makes you unique, and why you would be an asset to the university.

photo by Lia Castro

How do I pay for it?

Schools offer financial aid to all students in order to assist with tuition, fees, books, living costs, and other expenses.  When applying for schools, research their financial aid options.  Many schools will offer a combination of scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans to help you with these costs. If you would like to receive financial aid, you must fill out a federal FAFSA at the beginning of each year.


To be eligible for financial aid, you must:

  • Be a US citizen, national or an eligible non-citizen
  • Have a social security number
  • Have a diploma or GED
  • Be registered with selective services (males age 18-25)
  • Are not in default on any other student loans
  • You do not have to be enrolled or accepted to a school in order to fill out the FAFSA. You can designate several different schools you are applying for and they will approve the funding once your school accepts you and requests the money from FAFSA.

Federal aid is granted on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The sooner you complete a FAFSA online, the more aid you are likely to receive.  For the 2017-2018 academic year, you can file anytime between October 1, 2016–June 30, 2018.

To file for federal student aid, visit the FAFSA website to begin your application.

Check out this breakdown of application requirements and local college costs.