About our partner:
Sallie Mae's 1-2-3 Approach to Paying for College

With Sallie Mae's 1-2-3 Approach to Paying for College, we encourage students and families to tap the most affordable education funds first and minimize education loan debt upon graduation.

  • Step 1.

    Use Free Money First. Students should fill out the FAFSA to access need-based grants and research and apply for scholarships. Students should consider supplementing grants and scholarships with current income and college savings.

  • Step 2.

    Explore Federal Loans. Available to both students and parents regardless of need, federal loans offer low, fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options.

  • Step 3.

    Fill Any Gap with Private Student Loans. After students have pursued free money and federal loans, private student loans may be available to cover the rest of their education costs.

Christina C., Former Enrollment Services American University, Washington, D.C. answered the following questions.

Q: I probably don't qualify for aid. Should I apply for aid anyway? 

A: Yes. Many families mistakenly think they don't qualify for aid, and prevent themselves from receiving financial aid by failing to apply for it. In addition, there are a few sources of aid such as unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans that are available regardless of need. The FAFSA form is free. There is no good excuse for not applying. 

Q: Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at a particular university? 

A: You can apply for financial aid any time after January 1. To actually receive funds, however, you must be admitted and enrolled at the university. 

Q: Why can't I submit my financial aid application before January 1? 

A: The need analysis process for financial aid uses the family's income and tax information from the most recent tax year (the base year) to judge your eligibility for need-based financial aid during the upcoming academic year (the award year). Since the base year ends December 31, you cannot submit a financial aid application until January 1. After all, your parents might earn a year-end bonus or realize capital gains from selling stocks on December 31. If you submit the financial aid application before January 1, it will be rejected. 

Q: Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year? 

A: Yes. Most financial aid offices require that you apply for financial aid every year. If your financial circumstances change, you may get more or less aid. After your first year you will receive a "Renewal Application" which contains preprinted information from the previous year's FAFSA. Note that your eligibility for financial aid may change significantly, especially if you have a different number of family members in college. Renewal of your financial aid package also depends on your making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree, such as earning a minimum number of credits and achieving a minimum GPA. 

Q: If you work while in college, can your financial aid be taken away ?
Quinton Moore IV, Bear , DE

A: Financial aid can never be "taken away," as such. Financial aid is determined by evaluation of your family's income and assets every year. Financial aid can only be altered from year to year for the following reasons:1). You miss the financial aid deadlines for your school: Commit your school's financial aid deadlines to memory! The requirements will usually be a completed FAFSA mailed to the servicer; 2) Your family situation changes:This could be one of many things, including --a sibling graduated from college/no longer attending college/there is one less member in the household in college--You are enrolled less than full-time at your school--Your parent gets a raise at his or her job/parent's income increases/Your family wins the lottery-- Student's income increases and 3). You don't make "satisfactory progress. "Satisfactory Progress for an undergraduate student is defined as the completion of 24 credit hours per academic year for full-time students (completion of 80% of credits attempted for part-time students) and a cumulative GPA of 2.0. Remember, you must maintain satisfactory academic progress to be eligible for any financial aid! Financial aid is designed to assist students and families with the cost of attending college/university. And 4). the most recent copy of parents' and student's tax returns,  (perhaps) an institutional supplemental form.

All schools have a limited pool of money, and the they will deny aid to a student who has missed the deadlines. Don't let this happen to you!   If you are able to earn more money during the school year or during the summer, good for you! You may subsequently need less assistance!

Q: What aid is available for Masters and Ph.D. programs? How do I apply for a loan, or get additional information?
Braynt E. Gries, Titusville, FL

A: If you are willing to do a lot of research, there ARE scholarships available for graduate students, of course, but unfortunately, most of the private scholarships out there are geared towards undergraduate students. Your best bet is to start with the graduate schools themselves. As far as loans go, all graduate students are eligible to borrow up to $18,500 per year in federal loans, depending upon the cost of the programs. After that, there are private lenders who will approve loans up to the cost of attendance (Many Law schools, Med schools and business schools cost upwards of $30,000 per year!) Inquire about fellowships and assistantships. Many schools ask that you work for a professor as a Teacher's Assistant (grade papers, proctor exams, even teach classes). In exchange, you are given a stipend, and your classes are free. Inquire about jobs as Dormitory Resident Assistants. You may get a stipend, free room and board, and a couple classes free. Many schools offer tuition remission to their full-time staff members. If you work full-time, you can take classes, and the tuition is "paid for" by the school (specifics vary from school to school). This option is a good bet for many people--you get job experience, a salary, a degree, and little to no debt! Figure out where you want to go to school, and contact the Financial Aid Office (for financial aid forms, information) and the Human Resources Office (for tuition remission benefits, information). Good Luck!

Q: Is there a source which identifies web site addresses for college admissions or a publication, of college admission requirements or addresses to seek this information?
Robert Williams, Fresno, California

A: Try this: Go to the YAHOO! Search engine: Click under "Education", and then "Higher Education". This may help. You may also want to try obvious addresses to see if they work (i.e., for American University, Washington, DC, the web page address is: http://www.american.edu )

Craig S. G., once associate director of admission, The College of Wooster, answered the following questions.

Q: I am mainly interested in an advanced degree in comp. info. system at the following institutions, Univ. of California at Irvine & Univ. of Texas at Dallas, being from out of state how long will it take me to attain residency in each state and what are my chances of, gaining admission with a 2.75 GPA at either institution.
Nganga Anthony, Topeka, Kansas

A: Residency is determined by state law and it varies per state. You will need to contact the office of registration at each school to learn of the requirements for residency. The same is true for finding out the possibility of being admitted with your GPA. They might also require the GRE (Graduate Record Exam)

Q: How should financial aid forms be filled out by my 23-year-old son who is responsible for his own education at this point ? I have another one in college (soph) also. Should I fill out forms for the soph. and have son fill his own or do both go on one form ? Can son take loan on his own from bank if my income would eliminate any need based aid or would his filling out own forms better qualify him on a need basis ? He lives with us when not in school and at school when attending at his own expense.
John Nickey, Wyomissing Hills

A: You should complete the financial aid form for the student whom you will be supporting. It sounds as though your 23 year old is an independent student. When he completes the FAFSA form he will find out if he will be considered an independent or dependent student. The conditions under which he is able to take out a loan will depend on whether or not he is an independent student.

Private Student Loans
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