What to Do If You Don't Qualify for Federal Aid
When you fill out a FAFSA, the federal government evaluates it and sends you a Student Aid Report. This report outlines your eligibility for federal need-based grants. It will tell you whether you’re eligible for Pell grants, as well as your family’s expected contribution to your education. If you don’t qualify for a Pell grant, it’s not unusual—the majority of students aren’t eligible due to their fairly strict income requirements. But most students are also eligible for other aid.
Some students see an expected family contribution that is larger than the cost of their university. If you see that, you’re not eligible for any need-based aid. If you’re not eligible for most federal aid—or your expected contribution is much more than you thought you’d have to kick in—here are your options.
The FAFSA isn’t the only aid form you should fill out. Just because the FAFSA said you’re not eligible for aid doesn’t mean everyone will agree. And the federal government isn’t the only source of aid. Your school may offer scholarships and grants, some of which are merit-based and don’t take your income into account at all.
Your school may also require you to fill out an aid form called the College Scholarship Service Profile. This profile assesses a few things not included on the FAFSA, such as your home equity—which may work for you or against you. You can get the profile from the College Board. Your school may decide you’re eligible for other sources of aid.
Check out your school’s aid options
Your school may offer you a merit-based scholarship or grant, or you may be able to secure a place in a work-study program through your school. You should be able to find out more by talking to your school’s financial aid personnel and filling out a College Scholarship Service Profile.
Look into your other federal aid options
Not all federal aid is income-based. For example, parents of students in school at least part-time can take out a PLUS loan, which currently has a fixed interest rate of about 8.5%. These loans are unsubsidized—you’ll pay interest even while in school—but the terms and rates are generally better than private loans. You may also be eligible for unsubsidized Stafford loans, which defers principle until you graduate.
Make sure there are no mistakes
It’s not unusual to make mistakes when filling in the FAFSA. If your expected contribution is unexpectedly high, check to make sure you entered everything in correctly. In addition to flat-out errors, you could have filled in your FAFSA with estimated income information because the FAFSA deadline comes in long before most people finish their taxes. If your income information is much different on your tax returns than it is on your FAFSA, you’ll have the opportunity to change it. You can edit your information at the FAFSA website and get an updated aid report within about two days. This could change your eligibility for some grants and loans.
Tell your school if you’ve had a major change in circumstances
The FAFSA bases its information on your income from the year before. If you had a major change after filling in your FAFSA—a parent lost a job or died, your parents divorced, there was a severe unexpected illness occurred in your family, or some other occurrence happened that changed your financial situation, your school should know as soon as possible. If you’ve had a real extenuating circumstance, your school may be able to change your aid package to get you more financial help.
Paying for college is never easy. And even the federal government can’t give financial aid to everyone who needs it. If your expected financial contribution is higher than you can manage, or if your financial situation changed significantly between last year and this one, you have options. Check over your Student Aid Report to make sure there are no errors. And fill out the CSS Profile. If you do, you should be able to improve your chances for financial aid.
FAFSA.gov: Federal Student Aid Programs
StudentAid.ed.gov: A Guide to Funding Education Beyond High School
Distance Education: Five Common Mistakes to Avoid When Filling Out the FAFSA
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