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The financial aid process is comprehensive and methodical. There is a certain complexity to understanding every aspect, but numerous resources exist to guide people through the application procedure. Community college students often disregard financial aid, believing they are ineligible due to income or the lack of attendance at a four-year institution. In reality, the process is practically the same for everyone accepted to receive a higher education, including community college students. Community college often has students of various ages and walks of life. It is important to apply in all situations because the information one provides in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can result in providing financial support for receiving your education.
The FAFSA is a free online application that is managed by the federal government. It is the only means to receive federal and state-level financial aid. Financial aid includes scholarships, grants, and loans (usually at a lower rate than private loans and doesn’t need to be repaid until after receiving the education). FAFSA attempts to evaluate income, assets, and other external factors to determine how much a person can contribute to their studies. These numbers may be large sums of money that are confusing, but the formula is approximate. Usually, to receive financial aid colleges require at least 12 semester credit hours; however, smaller amounts of money may be offered for part-time students. Any received aid is not obligatory, so if the Stafford loans are offered, one is not required to accept. There are only benefits and no associated cost of applying (Sheehy, 2013).
The first step to the application process is determining eligibility. Any U.S. citizen or resident with a high school (or equivalent) education can apply if they are working towards a degree from a certified educational institution. Other factors include not being convicted of drug-related charges and a lack of defaults on federal loans. Certain types of aid may have other requirements, but these are the general eligibility requisites (California Community Colleges, 2017). FAFSA can be filled out online or through a mail-in form.
The form is meant to be simple, but it seeks to evaluate income, family size, associated costs, and assets. It is important to have a social security number (alien registration number if non-citizen), federal tax returns, financial records, and account balances on hand when filling out the form (Federal Student Aid, 2017). It is important to know all the deadlines for the FAFSA application to avoid lateness. Furthermore, each specific institution may require additional forms and deadlines which differ from federally established ones.
The primary purpose of the FAFSA application is to gather information so it can determine the person’s financial need. This is done by taking the cost of attendance (COA) for the specific educational institution and subtracting the calculated estimated family contribution (EFC). The financial aid offered does not necessarily cover the need as there are ceilings on how much each loan or grant can provide, but a greater need usually maximizes the award. Community college students are statistically more likely to have unmet need, therefore eligibility for a larger Pell Grant or local grants. All awarded aid must be spent on allowable costs which include: tuition and fees, room and board, books, and supplies (Information for Financial Aid Professionals, 2006).
After the FAFSA application is filled out, it takes time to process. The student will receive a confirmation from the FAFSA website and sometimes the educational institution that the application has been received. For several months the application is processed, including by the college of attendance. After a certain point, one will be notified of the school’s aid offer, most often on the college student portal. The student then chooses which financial aid to accept. The college then electronically disburses the aid to the student account covering tuition and fees on a semester basis. If the financial aid for the semester exceeds tuition and fees, the extra money is given to the student via check or electronic deposit. The student may use these funds for appropriate education-related needs (Kapi’olani Community College, 2017).
California Community Colleges. (2017). FAFSA eligibility.
Federal Student Aid. (2017). The FAFSA process.
Information for Financial Aid Professionals. (2006). Calculating awards and packaging.
Kapi’olani Community College (2017). Financial aid checks & disbursement.
Sheehy, K. (2013). FAFSA tips to help non-traditional students pay for college. US News.