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Top 10 Things to Remember when Applying for Financial Aid

Most of the time, a big part of your college decision is based on how you'll pay for it. North Carolinians are lucky. Our state offers a wide choice of colleges and over $600 million in state scholarships and grants to help pay for them. For more information, please go to our Student Loan page.

1) Do your homework in advance.

Get information about the cost of the North Carolina colleges and universities you are considering at CFNC.org. And you can learn about the process of applying for financial aid and the scholarships, grants and loans available to help pay for your education. Go to the website or call toll free 866-866-CFNC for any questions you have about how to pay for college.

2) Check for deadlines.

Some scholarships may require an application. Don’t miss out on an opportunity because you failed to return an application on time. If you don’t have exact information (like completed tax information), estimate so you don’t miss a deadline. Make copies of documents for your records.

3) Fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after January 1 of your senior year as possible.

Don’t think you’ll qualify for financial aid? You may be surprised. One thing is sure – if you don’t fill out a FAFSA, you definitely won't qualify! The results of your FAFSA are the only "application" needed for many federal and state scholarships and grants. File early to be considered for all available aid. Don’t wait until after you hear about admission. Start your FAFSA at CFNC.org or go straight to http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.

The Department of Education uses a standard formula in processing your FAFSA to determine how much you and your family should be able to contribute to your education, your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The difference between college costs and what is determined as the amount you can pay is your "financial need".

4) To speed up the FAFSA processing, apply for your electronic signature – your PIN number – before you file.

Filing online takes much less time when you already have an electronic signature/PIN. If you are a dependent student, your parent should also apply for a PIN. You can both apply for a PIN at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.

5) If you need help filling out the FAFSA, register for FAFSA Day.

CFNC and college financial aid officers will sponsor an annual FAFSA Day at locations across the state typically on a Saturday in February. To find this year's FAFSA Day date, the location nearest you and register, check CFNC.org/fasfaday or call 1-866-866-CFNC anytime between mid-October - early February.

6) Contact the financial aid office at the colleges to which you are applying.

Other financial aid forms may be required by individual colleges or universities for institutional money they have available. They might include institution-based applications for need-based aid, College Scholarship Service PROFILE applications, and specific college merit scholarship applications (often with fall deadlines, so apply early). The aid office can also help you consider other sources of financial aid and help you understand the process and timing.

7) Check with your high school counselor.

There are scholarships applications from numerous independent sources, such as foundations, clubs and companies that may be available in your local area. There are also helpful links to find more information on outside scholarships at CFNC.org.

8) Receive a "financial aid package" from colleges.

After you are accepted by a college, if you have indicated your interest in financial aid and filled out a FAFSA, you will receive an award letter that indicates any aid for which you have qualified. Financial aid packages generally include a combination of gift (scholarship and grants, money that does not need to be repaid) and self-help (work-study and education loans). Some colleges are able to meet your full demonstrated need, but some cannot.

9) Compare financial aid packages from different colleges.

If you have several financial aid packages from different colleges to compare, here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Can I afford to attend my first choice college or university?
  • Is there a commitment from the financial aid office to continue the aid after my first year of college? Under what terms and conditions? What must I do to continue receiving aid (application deadlines, grade averages, etc.)?
  • Is the amount of loan and/or work a reasonable amount? Can I afford the monthly payments on loans after graduation?
  • Are there any changes in my family’s financial situation that the college doesn’t know that might merit reconsideration?
10) Pick your financial aid carefully.

Use as much "gift" money as you can first. Scholarships and grants that you don’t have to pay back are a real benefit. Next, apply for federal student and parent loans. These are generally lower cost than private loans and, when you borrow using a Direct Loan from the US Department of Education, you’ll save money. If you still need more for college, then you might look at a supplemental private, or alternative, loan. But borrow only what you really need. Don’t get excited about "easy" money. It's hard to pay it back. More information and applications at CFNC.org.

*Quoted rates, dividends, annual percentage yields (APY) and rates (APR) are subject to change daily at the discretion of the Board of Directors.