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Get to Know Your Way Through the FAFSA

Students reviewing loan applications on laptop

Did you know the 2015-2016 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available? If you aren’t quite familiar with the application, we’re here to help! For many students, applying for financial aid is extremely important in helping you finance your education. Here are some pointers that can help you fill out your FAFSA without any hassle.

What is the FAFSA?

To apply for federal student aid, you need to complete the FAFSA. Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college. Be cautious of anyone who advises you to pay to complete the FAFSA.

Additionally, New York State and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid.

Different types of federal student aid

When you apply for financial aid using the FASFA, you might be under the impression that all of the aid you might qualify to receive is the same. This is not true. There are three major types of federal financial aid: grants, loans, and work-study. Make sure you know the facts.

Federal vs. Private Loans

Loans consist of money that you borrow to help pay for college, and must be repaid (plus interest). Federal student loans are loans that are funded by the federal government, where private loans are made by a lender (bank, credit union, state agency, school) and often have interest rates that are unpredictable. Federal loans usually offer lower fixed interest rates and special benefits that private loans do not offer.

When taking out student loans, make sure you know the difference between federal and private loans. When you complete your FAFSA and receive your award letter from the school, you may be offered a federal student loan if any grant and scholarship aid (free financial aid) does not cover the full cost of attendance (COA). Sometimes a federal student loan is not enough to cover the full COA. Before you decide to take out a private loan, talk to your college financial aid officer for advice.

There are two federal student loan programs:

  • The Federal Direct Loan Program enables students and parents to borrow money at low interest rates directly from the federal government.
  • The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a campus-based program that provides low-interest loans to undergraduate and graduate students. The amount of the award depends on the student’s financial need, the amount of other aid the student receives, and the availability of funds at his/her college.

Use the net price calculator

If you plan on attending a SUNY college and want to predict your estimated costs for college, look no further than the net price calculator. After answering a a few questions you will be able to see the estimated cost you will have to pay and an early estimate of the financial aid you may qualify for.

Dependent and Independent Status

Make sure you know your status! If you are under 24 years of age and depend primarily on your parents you would be considered to be dependent. Knowing the difference is extremely important when filling in your status.

Understand your calendar

Make sure you fill out your application before the deadline. The deadline for federal and New York State aid is set for June 30th of each academic year, but the campus deadline is often much earlier to be considered for campus based financial aid (find campus scholarship deadlines via the SUNY Smart Track website). Make sure you have all of your information and give yourself enough time to complete the FAFSA. You should start filling out your application rather early in the calendar year prior to the year you will be attending to give your college enough time to package you for campus based financial aid, if you are eligible.


Financial Aid Days 2015The upcoming SUNY Financial Aid Days are offered as a service to all prospective college students and their families. The programs are designed to answer questions and provide assistance regarding the financial aid application, types of aid available, and the award process. Learn more about the financial aid process by registering and attending an event near you, coming up on February 28.


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Steven Molinari

Written by Steven Molinari

Steven was a student assistant in the Office of Communications of the State University of New York in summer 2014. He is an undergraduate political science student at Binghamton University.

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