How to Get a Handle on Financial Aid for College

Feb 11, 2016

Scholarship and Financial AidWhile higher education costs continue to climb, it may be comforting to know that there are more than one hundred billion dollars’ worth of scholarships, grants and other forms of financial aid made available each year from federal, state and private resources. To help you navigate this vast landscape, we’ve mapped out a simple approach to take when looking for ways to ease the financial burden of attending college. With February upon us, important deadlines are rapidly approaching, so be sure to take action soon!

Fill out or complete the FAFSA online: Federal funds provide a major source of financial assistance for most college students, and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an important first step that allows you to be considered for the highest amount of need-based assistance for grants, scholarships, work-study programs and loans from the federal government. In addition, the state of California and many colleges use FAFSA data when determining eligibility for financial aid.

The application usually takes about thirty minutes to complete, and is available at www.fafsa.org.

You’ll need to fill out a FAFSA form each year you are seeking financial aid, since your finances may change from year to year. It’s also a good idea to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible, because some financial aid is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. To learn more, view a short video on FAFSA at http://bit.ly/FAFSAOverviewYouTubeVideo.

Apply for state assistance: The state of California has one of the country’s most generous state programs for postsecondary education, regardless of whether you’re planning on attending a university or a vocational or trade school. The Cal Grant program, which is open to all California applicants, is the most commonly used form of financial aid from the state. To apply for it, you should complete and submit a FAFSA or California Dream Application and file a certified Grade Point Average (GPA) with the California Student Aid Commission no later than March 2. For more information on how to receive state financial aid, visit http://bit.ly/CaliforniaStudentAidCommission.

Find out if the college offers its own scholarships, grants or loans: Many colleges and universities provide their own merit or need-based financial aid from funds available through private endowments or gifts from alumni. For an easy way to find out if the school you are applying to offers its own form of financial aid, visit the college website or check with their financial aid office. In addition, CSS/Financial Aid Profile is an excellent tool to use to search and apply online for financial aid from nearly 300 colleges and scholarship programs.

Explore private sources of funding: Every year, an estimated $3.3 billion in grants and scholarships is awarded to U.S. students from individuals, foundations, corporations, churches, nonprofit groups, veterans groups, professional groups and many other organizations. Although the amount awarded from individuals and organizations may be considerably less than what the federal and state government offer, you can often apply to as many as these as practical to maximize your education funds. What’s more, these scholarships are often awarded based on merit rather than financial need, which allows even those students from affluent families to take advantage of them.

For help finding and applying for private sources of funding, use online search tools such as Financial Aid Finder, Scholarship Search and Fastweb. It’s also wise to check with your high school guidance counselor, who might be able to point you toward an organization or association offering grants and scholarships. Additionally, some local employers, including SF Police Credit Union, sponsor scholarship competitions for students committed to higher learning. On February 20, SFPCU will be announcing the results of our 2016 scholarship contest at our Annual Meeting—awarding $1,000 to each of our four winners!

Are you or a son or daughter evaluating college options and concerned about how to bridge the gap between financial aid and the soaring costs of tuition, fees, books and living expenses? SF Police Credit Union can help with Student Loans offering competitive interest rates and a 30-day, no-fee return policy that allows you to change your mind with no penalty. With low monthly payments and a quick approval process, we provide student loans between $2,000 and $25,000 per year for both undergraduate and graduate programs. For details and to apply, visit our website.