How do I start the financial aid process?
After you have narrowed down the schools that you want to apply to, one of the first steps in securing aid will be to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The FAFSA is available in January, prior to the upcoming school year. You can fill out the application online at www.fafsa.gov and it will require information about yourself, your family and your financial situation.
After filling out your FAFSA, the schools that you have applied to will send you an award letter listing what aid you are eligible for and how much money they are offering you. How much aid you receive from different schools may play a big role in determining where you ultimately choose to attend.
Where is the money coming from?
The majority of money will come from the US Department of Education, which provides the Federal Student Aid money through grants, loans and work-study funds.
Grants are essentially free money that doesn’t need to be repaid. Grants can come from the state or federal government, from the college that you are applying to, or from private sources. The Vermont Legislature gives money out in grants every year to students to pursue higher education.
Loans are borrowed money that needs to be repaid with interest. Federal loans don't have to be paid while you're in college and are less burdensome than private loans that can have higher interest rates and less flexible payment plans.
Work-Study is the opportunity to work for pay while at school to help you finance your education and other related expenses. The Federal Work Study program provides funds to employ a student in the college itself or a federal, state or public agency; a private nonprofit or a private for profit organization.
What about scholarships?
Scholarships, like grants, don’t need to be repaid and are awarded to a prospective student. Scholarships tend to be awarded to a student based on their academic achievements or accomplishments outside of school. Scholarships are more competitive than grants and are only awarded to a number of applicants.
The best place to look for scholarships is through your high school and the school that you are applying to, but they can also be found through town officials, businesses, clubs and other sources.
One place to start looking is with this scholarship search tool found at the following address: http://www.careerinfonet.org/scholarshipsearch
Paying back loans:
Grants and scholarships don’t have to be repaid. For most loans, you will not have to start making payments on them until after you have graduated. There are different payment plans to choose from to suit your financial situation, your employment status, and whether or not you are planning on doing more schooling.