The Financial Aid Process

Get a brief overview and answers to your financial aid questions

Each year, millions of students come to the end of their high school careers, nursing the same fears and insecurities about attending college. Which school should I consider? Can I get accepted? And perhaps most difficult of all: How will I afford it?

The good news is that there's billions of dollars in financial aid packages available to students to help fund their post-secondary education. Some of these awards do need to be repaid, much of it comes from the federal government, and some of it is awarded based on financial need. Here's a rundown on how you can begin that financial aid process.

1. Estimate your actual cost to attend

The first step in beginning the financial aid process is to review the actual costs of your handful of targeted institutions. In doing so, don't forget to include indirect costs—such as transportation, books, and various fees—along with the more obvious costs, such as tuition and room and board.

2. File your FAFSA online

Just follow the online directions about filing the FAFSA. This is the gateway through which the entire financial aid process begins.

3. Determine your financial need

Although this task can be involved, you can get all the information you need to answer your financial aid questions through filing the FAFSA form. It contains all your financial information (and your parents' also, if you're a dependent). After filing, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a financial summary of the information in your application, which will include your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is the amount of money the government determines your family can contribute towards your education. This assists the financial Aid offices of the schools you applied to in determining your financial aid award.

4. Figure out how you'll cover those costs

Once you have chosen a school and received your financial aid award letter, start by tapping available federal money offered to you, such as the Stafford Loan, because they carry the lowest interest rates. You'll also need to look into grants and scholarships, which are forms of free money for your education. These will be listed on your award letter but you can always look for additional grants and scholarships. Just be sure to let your financial aid office know you have received additional free money because it might affect your existing aid. Most students will still need to obtain additional loans through private sources, such as a bank or credit union.

If this sounds like a lot of information to absorb, and it is, you shouldn't worry. You'll find a variety of valuable sources, loaded with knowledge to help answer your financial aid questions. Resources include your high school college counselor, your college financial aid office, and the professionals at private lending institutions such as Citizens Bank. Plus, there's a wealth of helpful student financial aid information on both the process and financial aid packages online.

Use a private student loan to fill the gap

After you've taken advantage of all federal grants, scholarships and federal loan options available, consider a private student loan to cover the rest. You can find helpful information about an affordable Citizens Bank Citizens Bank Student Loan™ and our convenient student banking options. If you have more financial aid questions, call a student loan specialist at 1-800-708-6684, and we'll help walk you through the financial aid process.

Additional student loan and college planning resources

Financial Aid Calendar
Preparing for College
What Type of Financial Aid is Right for Me?
Sample Financial Aid Packages
Have a Question?
Banking For Students
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