Since there are not many people who can finance a college education without some sort of financial assistance, at some point most students will have to fill out at least one student loan application. This process can be daunting, but fear of completing a student loan application is no reason to give up on higher education. Unfortunately, sometimes the easiest student loans to apply for are those with the most unfavorable terms.
For this reason, any student who is attempting to procure financial aid should become familiar with the types of loans available and the student loan application procedures that need to be followed in order to qualify for these loans.
FAFSA: The First Step in Financing an Education
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA is the most important scholarship and student loan application that any student must complete. It is also frequently the most complex and tedious application for students and their parents. This is because the FAFSA requires a lot of detailed financial information, including tax returns, from both students and parents. While the application requires time, this form is essential for all students. Filing a FAFSA is not only the sole method of obtaining federal funding for education including Stafford Loans, but this exhaustive form is also a prerequisite for most state and institution based loan programs. Since these types of loan programs tend to offer the most favorable terms for students, filing a FAFSA should be every student's first step in the financial aid process.
Applying for Federal Aid
Even though the FAFSA is free and can be completed online, its exhaustive nature causes too many students to give up and accept private loans with high interest rates and unfavorable repayment terms. A little preparation can help families avoid this undesirable situation, however. Anyone seeking financial aid should be sure to file a tax return as early as possible. As soon as the tax return is done, families should gather the completed return, bank statements and financial paperwork and fill out the FAFSA. Having paperwork on hand will make the process go more quickly, and early filing is crucial in ensuring eligibility for the maximum amount of aid available. It is imperative that families not only file the form before the FAFSA deadline but before the deadlines for individual school and private loan programs. A completed FAFSA is frequently required before students can even submit any other student loan application, and often these deadlines are earlier than the federal deadline.
School Based Financial Aid
Most higher education institutions have financial offices and offer many forms of financial aid and counseling to their students. While a FAFSA is usually required to qualify for school based programs, there are also additional applications to fill out. Since the deadlines for school based aid are often very early, every student should contact the financial aid office of his or her school as soon as a matriculation decision is made and obtain the necessary paperwork. This paperwork will often include a general financial aid application, applications for specific scholarships and a student loan application for any loans offered specifically by the school. These applications may require personal information in addition to the financial information required for the FAFSA.