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Home / Issues in Health Care Education / News & Articles / Applying for Financial Aid (Part II)

Applying for Financial Aid (Part II)

Recently we looked at changes in financial aid that could impact how you pay for your health sciences education.   This article focuses on the process of applying for financial aid, and includes both questions you may want to ask the Financial Aid Office at the school where you matriculate, and some important reminders to help you get started.

Everything you do when applying for financial aid should be done with the intention of putting yourself in the best position possible to receive the best financial aid available for your degree or certificate program.

There are at least three questions you should get answers to when you apply for financial aid:

How much does it cost? 

How much do I have?

How much more do I really need?

How much does it cost?

Always consider the total cost of your degree or certificate program, regardless of how long your program lasts, not just the cost for one year.  However, when you apply for financial aid, you have to apply on an annual basis.  In general, every school will break down your annual costs (called your Cost of Attendance (COA)) into at least three categories:

  •  Tuition and fees
  • Books, supplies, and equipment
  • Living expenses

Many schools list their COA on their Web site. If you do not see it contact them, as they can provide it for you.   Pay special attention to those items in the COA over which you may have some control (like your living expenses), as this may help as you set up your budget and may ultimately help reduce how much you borrow for school, if you have to borrow.

How much do I have?

You may already have a pretty good idea what kind of resources you and perhaps your family have to put towards your costs.  However, as mentioned in the previous article, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key document for anyone applying for financial aid and is it available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.  The results are sent to your Financial Aid Office to help them determine what kind of resources you have available to help meet your COA. 

The new tax law passed by Congress in late December has some changes that may impact when you file the FAFSA.  Just remember that you can always file with estimated tax information in order to meet your school’s financial aid application deadline. 

How much more do I need?

Once you know the cost and you know how much you have in terms of resources, you can determine how much more you really need. This is the amount your Financial Aid Office will try and help you meet with any grants, scholarships, loans, and other aid you may qualify for.

Important Questions to Ask the Financial Aid Office

  1. Are there any grants or scholarships available, and if so, are they need-based, merit-based, or both?
  2. Are there any separate forms or applications to complete, and if so, what are the submission deadlines?
  3. What is the first year COA, and how much is designated for living expenses?
  4. Are there any reputable Web sites where I can look for outside scholarship support? (ExploreHealthCareers' Find Funding database includes scholarships, grants, loans and loan repayment programs for health profession students).

Some Important Reminders

  1. The Financial Aid Office cannot process your aid application until you have been accepted.  However, don’t wait to be accepted to apply for aid. Have your aid application complete and ready for review so that as soon as you are accepted, the Financial Aid Office can start work on your application.
  2. Federal loans like Stafford, PLUS, and Perkins have more flexible repayment terms plus options for postponement of payments and forgiveness that private loans do not.  You should always consider maximizing your federal loan eligibility first before taking out a private loan.
  3. Speaking of private loans, don’t be fooled when you see promotions on Web sites that say things like “Rates as low as …”.   While rates on private loans may appear low, they are usually variable, often with no caps, and not all borrowers qualify for the low rates often advertised.

This article was written by Paul S. Garrard, President and Founder of PGPresents, LLC; a 27 year veteran of student financial aid and higher education.