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Unlocking Educational Horizons: Navigating Financial Aid for a Bright College Future / By: Shreya Rajesh

Many U.S. students lack awareness of available financial aid resources and the

application process. An observational study revealed that 85% of the surveyed college

students were unaware that the FAFSA determines eligibility for gift aid and not

just loans (Safier, 2021). This highlights the need for a clear explanation to bridge the

gap and to ensure that students collectively understand financial aid. A fellow high

school student stated that "the financial aid application process seems overwhelming

due to the number of steps I’m unsure about”. However, understanding financial aid

significantly simplifies this process. This article provides a brief overview of financial aid

applications and resources.

Navigating the application process requires a foundational grasp of financial aid,

with many students encountering obstacles due to unclear comprehension. Federal

Student Aid defines financial aid as "money to help pay for college or career

school," encompassing various financial aid types such as scholarships, grants,

loans, and work-study programs (, 2023). To understand these

options fully, it is crucial to establish a fundamental understanding of financial aid.

Grants and scholarships are categorized as gift aid, whereas student loans require

repayment, says Laura Villagomez, a Chicago Regional Coordinator for the Illinois

Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), the state’s college access and financial aid

agency. It’s helpful for students to understand the distinctions between these different

types of aid, since they will want to make sure they are accessing all the grants and

scholarships (money they don’t have to pay back) for which they are eligible , before

taking out student loans.

A study found that 49% of surveyed students were unaware that the FAFSA

determines eligibility for federal grants (Safier, 2021). The FAFSA is also the

application for many state grants and is often used in determining eligibility for aid that

comes directly from colleges and universities. Early FAFSA submission is crucial for

accessing limited financial aid, particularly when some state grants are awarded on a

first-come, first-serve basis. Missing priority deadlines at some universities could mean

losing eligibility for some grants and scholarships. The 2024-25 FAFSA is now available

( so if you are planning to attend college next fall, don’t delay completing

this important step in securing funding for your college journey.

Students must overcome confusion to progress. Many students struggle with

finding a mentor, finding resources, or understanding aid types. Villagomez advises,

“Reach out to (your) high school counselor or college and career advisor at (your)

specific school. I would also encourage students to connect with mentors or trusted

individuals.” Connecting with knowledgeable mentors helps eliminate confusion,

ensures clarity of requirements, and boosts confidence in the application process. This

is more than simply paperwork. It is your opportunity to receive the funding necessary to

achieve your goals in the next step of your educational journey.



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