Am I Eligible for Student Loans?  

For the vast majority of high school students, going to college is one of the best investments you’ll ever make in your life.  Getting any kind of a degree is a challenge, but one that can create countless financial, social and career opportunities if you’re willing to do the work.

However, going to college just doesn’t happen on a whim.  It requires a fair amount of planning, effort and strategic decisions on your part, along with help from your parents and other family members.  That planning can start before you even take your first steps if your parents step up a college savings fund for you. 

As a student, for your part, you need to start thinking about college as early as your freshman year in high school.  Colleges will look at whether or not you are getting good grades, whether or not you’re taking challenging college prep classes, what kind of extracurricular activities you’re involved with and if you’re actively giving back to your community by volunteering with a service club, through your church, or in some other fashion. 

Why are these things important?  Because colleges not only base their admission decisions on these criteria, they can use them to make other decisions about you as well.

The most significant of these is deciding how much assistance you will receive to help you pay for your college education.  Many financial aid decisions are based primarily on need, but other financial aid options, such as grants, scholarships and private loans can be decided based on your academic and civic track record. 

Regardless of the source of the funds, the overall goal is the same—to find as many ways as possible to make a college education more affordable.

Competition for grants and scholarships is highly competitive, so for most students, getting approved for the most favorable student loans is how the vast majority of students finance a college education. 

FAFSA Eligibility and FAQs

The first step in getting financial aid usually starts with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year.   Doing so makes it easy to work with Financial Aid offices with colleges you are thinking of attending, and gives you the most opportunities to create a financial aid baseline.  The FAFSA is used to determine what amount of money your family should contribute, as well as how much and what kind of financial aid may be available to you from the federal government.

In some cases, you may qualify for a Pell Grant, which is given to low income students and does not need to be repaid.  If you qualify, financial aid offices will also probably offer you a combination of subsidized and unsubsidized loans.  Both of these will need to be paid back starting 6 months after you are no longer a full-time student, but they will give you the flexibility and the time you need to get your college degree and increase your prospects of landing a better paying job as you start your career.

The biggest different between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan is that a subsidized loan gives borrowers a 0% interest rate while they are in school.  Unsubsidized loans accrue from the time you accept the loan at a rate of just over 4% which is still a great deal compared to other options, such as private loans.

Like anything else, securing student loans and financial aid is a process.  The good news is that there are lots of resources to help you through countless options you’ll be faced with.  The key is to focus on the goal of getting your college education and finding a financial aid package that works best for your particular situation.