Finding Financial Aid

Assistance for cash-strapped students

There aren't many people who can afford to enroll in trade schools or colleges without taking out a loan or receiving scholarships, bursaries or other financial aid. Here's a good starting point for seeking out financial assistance through the Federal government, state governments and other sources.

Types of financial aid

  • Merit-based - This type of aid is given to students as an award for any of academic achievement, outstanding talent or personal characteristics. Good grades, athletic or musical ability or leadership skills can be the focus of merit-based financial aid. Some colleges consider every student who applies to the school for merit scholarships, without taking into consideration the student's need for financial assistance. Other schools have merit-based scholarships but require students to apply for them.
  • Needs-based - In this case monetary help is given to students who can prove that they need it.

Federal Student Financial Aid

The government offers need-based financial assistance through a variety of programs, grants, scholarships and work and loan programs. Students are eligible to apply for this aid if they are attending a nationally accredited school.
Some aid programs are:

  • Federal Pell grants
  • Federal SEOG grants
  • SMART grants
  • Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG)
  • Federal work-study
  • Federal Stafford loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)
  • Federal Perkins loans

FAFSA for federal and state financial aid

To qualify for federal aid a student must file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which determines their eligibility for federal needs-based aid.

The U.S. Department of Education will forward the FAFSA to the correct state student assistance agency so it can also be used to determine eligibility for state aid. State governments provide needs- and non-needs based aid in the form of grants, loans, work-study programs, tuition waivers and scholarships.

A FAFSA takes into account the income and assets of a student's family to determine how much money the family is expected to contribute. It also considers participation in college savings or pre-paid tuition plans.

It can be used by public educational institutions to see if students are eligible for grants the school offers. Private schools may require a separate application. A FAFSA form must be completed each school year by a certain deadline. Deadlines vary for each state so look into the specifics in your area. Generally, deadlines range from March to October, with most deadlines coming earlier in the year. The sooner you complete your FAFSA, the better.