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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 (StudentAid.gov, 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 (www.fafsa.gov) 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. Citations: “Types of Financial Aid.” Federal Student Aid, 5 July 2019, Kitchen, Xiomara Martinez-White Michael. “85% of College Students Don’t Know FAFSA Determines Free Aid.” LendingTree,

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