College is expensive enough to put you in debt for most of your life. Paying for college is a tough and daunting task for many families and students. Some take out loans, others drain their savings and plenty apply for financial aid every year. Financial aid can help immensely, especially if you get grants or scholarships you don't have to pay back. There are plenty of options, but the most important step is to apply. Soon you'll be on your way to qualify for financial aid.
Check your college to see if you need to be accepted for your first year before you can apply for financial aid. Usually you have to be admitted to a college and have chosen a degree before you can apply, but some colleges don't require this. Check with the financial aid office if you're not sure.
Meet the main requirements. You must have a high school diploma or its equivalent, be a U.S. citizen or eligible for citizenship and have a Social Security number. You'll also want to make sure you're not owed a refund for any grant.
Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It can be completed online; there's also a paper application, but the process be be slower. The FAFSA website also has the option of completing your application by phone.
You'll need your federal tax forms from the previous year and any W-2 to fill out the application properly. Answer all questions accurately about your salary and your parents'. If you have any doubts on how to answer a question, it's best to call the financial aid office of your college to double check. Send in the form before the deadline. Deadlines differ by state, so check the FAFSA website for yours.
If the committee decides you are in need of financial aid, you'll get a financial aid award letter that will tell you what kind of financial aid you're eligible for. The types of aid you might see are grants, work study or loans. Grants don't have to be paid back, but loans do.
Most financial aid awards have requirements that you must have satisfactory grades in school to keep your awards.