Ultimate College Application Checklist

In many ways, the college application process is like a final project before graduating from high school. It requires students to use the skills they’ve learned to build their case as a strong applicant. They even receive a “grade”: accepted or denied.

Any big project can feel overwhelming at times, especially one where your future hangs in the balance. To reduce the pressure, our cheat sheet rounds up everything that needs to be done for your college applications. Use these guidelines to develop your own personalized checklist for the schools you’re interested in applying to.

Tips for Getting Organized

Before we get to the To Do list, let’s talk about organization. Applying for college is complicated and time-intensive. Creating a system can help prevent important details from slipping through the cracks.

Before you start printing out forms and stashing brochures, label a folder for each school and list important information on the front, such as:

•   College name

•   Application deadline

•   Type of deadline (early decision, early action, regular decision, or rolling admission)

•   Application fee

•   Application requirements (form, essay, recommendations, etc.)

Choose a single system to monitor all submissions and deadlines, and make sure your parents can also access the information.

One method of organization could be to file the folders by deadline dates rather than school names to ensure you get all documents to each school on time.

Keep copies of important documents, such as recommendation letters and student housing information, in each folder. Most early decision or early action deadlines are in November, while regular decision applications are usually due in January.

Make a note of any schools that have extra forms, or a particular department within the college that has its own set of requirements. The university likely has a list of scholarship deadlines, which may be the same or different from its application deadline.

College application deadlines tend to be set in stone, and admission officers may even frown upon those who wait till the last minute to submit their applications. It can be helpful to set reminders on your phone, computer, or the kitchen calendar.

Schedule reminders for at least a month before the real deadline so there’s plenty of time to ask questions, make adjustments, and get your application in well before the deadline.

Consolidate tasks whenever possible. If you need a recommendation for an extracurricular activity for two different schools, don’t ask the softball coach and the band conductor. Pick one and ask for a reference letter that can be easily customized for both schools.

Even the simplest college application is made up of multiple forms. You can use a physical filing system or cloud-based storage to store forms, recommendation letters, and more. Divide everything into folders for each college and label PDFs with short, descriptive names (not “scan008877605.pdf”)

Recommended: College Search Tool

College Application Checklist

If you’re looking for a section to print out and check off as you go, this is it. Then read on for details on how you might go about accomplishing these tasks.

•   Create a filing system for schools organized by the application deadline

•   Set reminders for application deadlines

•   Gather test scores (SAT®, ACT®, etc.) if prospective schools require them

•   Ask for 3 or more letters of recommendation

•   Write personal essay (if needed)

•   Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)

•   Research scholarships

1. Take Standardized Tests (Or Not)

A majority of colleges and universities no longer require standardized tests like the SAT and ACT for school applications — check with the schools you plan to apply to. If you want to play it safe and you have the time, you may want to take the test anyway.

Generally, students must register for tests about a month in advance. It will take a couple of weeks for scores to be distributed, and colleges receive scores about 10 days after students. So if your college application deadline is in January, you should schedule your test by October. Perhaps earlier if you want to give yourself enough time to retake the test.

2. Request Letters of Recommendation

Many colleges request 1 to 3 letters of recommendation. According to the College Board, these should be “written by someone who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and personality.” You may want to request an extra letter or two, to accommodate letter-writers who miss their deadline or beg off at the last minute.

When asking for a recommendation letter, keep in mind that teachers and coaches are usually very busy and likely being asked by multiple students. If possible, give them at least a month to write a reference letter. Really, the earlier the better. Some schools require recommendations from teachers in specific subjects, so be mindful of specific requirements.

3. Check for Special Deadlines

You’ll want to consider other deadlines as well, such as applications for special dorms, department-level scholarships, registering for summer activities, and more. These things can end up coloring the college experience just as much as which university you get accepted to.

In many cases, dorms are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Applying early can help you get the specific type of dorm you want, such as co-ed, separated by gender, or substance-free.

4. Fill Out the FAFSA

While you’re gathering all the information for college, you’ll probably be thinking about how to pay for it. Start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA®, the form that parents and students must complete to be eligible for federal student loans and aid. Many colleges also use the FAFSA to decide if a student qualifies for its own grants and scholarships.

A university may offer both need-based and merit-based aid. Need-based aid is determined by a family’s income and circumstances, while merit-based aid is determined by academics, athletics, and other talents. The FAFSA helps colleges determine how much need-based federal aid a student qualifies for.

The FAFSA application is generally available starting in October, and the due date varies by state . Try to apply as early as possible because some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

A common misconception is that the FAFSA is a one-time deal. In reality, the FAFSA must be filled out every year to account for any changes in income or other circumstances. For example, if one of your parents gets laid off from their job, you might qualify for more need-based aid.

For some students, federal aid (including federal student loans) isn’t enough to cover the full cost of attendance. If that’s the case, it may be time to look into some additional sources of funding.

5. Additional Funding Options

Some families are able to fill the gap between tuition costs and student aid with savings. Parents may take out loans in their own name to help children pay for college as well.

Other students are able to pay for a portion of their tuition with scholarships or grants. Scholarships and grants may require applicants to invest some time writing an essay. They can be a useful way to cover education costs since they don’t need to be repaid.

There are quite a few scholarship databases you can search to find those that fit your background and interests.

If you’ve exhausted your aid opportunities and are still looking to fill a gap, private student loans are an option to consider. While they don’t come with the same benefits as federal student loans (such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness options), they can be used to help pay for education expenses.

Unlike most federal student loans, the private student loan application process generally requires a credit check. Some students may find they need a cosigner, which is someone who would be held responsible for the loan in the event the primary borrower fails to make payments.

Stay Engaged in School

Once your college applications are on their way, your last semester in high school can feel kind of pointless. Not true! Colleges will want to see those grades and what you’ve been up to. If you’ve lost motivation, are cutting class, or let your grades slide, they’ll know it. And if you’re still taking AP exams, those results can determine whether you get credit for certain college courses.

So stay involved and send a followup letter listing any additional awards and achievements. This is your chance to show off what you’re capable of even when the pressure’s off.

Speaking of pressure, take time to relax — before, during, and after the application process. Plan some fun activities that don’t involve watching your inbox for acceptance letters. And congratulate yourself on making it this far.

The Takeaway

The college application process can be hectic. After all, the application itself is the least of your worries. There may also be standardized tests to take, letters of recommendation to collect, personal essays to write, housing to consider, and financial aid applications to complete. The earlier you complete these tasks, the less stressed you’ll be — and that can be reflected in the quality of your application. Stay on top of all deadlines, and set yourself reminders well in advance so you never have to rush or pull an all-nighter. Save those for college.

College financing can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. SoFi offers private student loans with no fees and flexible repayment plans. The application process can be completed entirely online. If interested, start by finding the rates you could pre-qualify for (without it impacting your credit score).1

Learn more about private student loans with SoFi.


1Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Financial Aid for a Second Bachelor’s Degree

Financial Aid for a Second Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree that usually requires you to take 120 credit hours of courses, typically around 40 classes. There are several types of bachelor’s degrees, including Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. When you pursue a bachelor’s degree, you can major in a wide variety of focus areas, including arts, sciences, and humanities.

You may consider a second bachelor’s degree due to a change in career (such as switching from teaching to engineering — the number of classes you have to take for a master’s may encourage you to get a second bachelor’s degree instead). Taking advantage of career opportunities, adapting to job changes, or getting credit for specific skills may also be reasons you dive in again.

But can you get financial aid for a second bachelor’s degree?

Yes, you can! Read on to learn more about how to get financial aid for a second bachelor’s degree and the type of financial aid you might want to pursue for your second go-round.

Is It Possible to Get Financial Aid for a Second Bachelor’s Degree?

Yes, it’s possible to receive financial aid for a second bachelor’s degree, which can include federal student aid like federal grants, work-study, and federal student loans. We’ll detail the definitions of these types of federal student aid below when we explain how adult learners pay for college.

It’s important to note that you will be limited to a certain amount of financial aid in certain situations. For example, the aggregate federal student loan limit for dependent students (those claimed by their parent(s) on their parents’ taxes) is $31,000 and no more than $23,000 can be in Subsidized Student Loans.

Independent students (students who are at least 24 years old, married, veterans, members of the armed forces, who have their own legal dependents, who are homeless, and/or meet other qualifications) cannot borrow more than $57,500. No more than $23,000 of this amount may be in Subsidized Loans. In other words, if you’ve already borrowed the maximum amount for your first undergraduate degree, you could not borrow any more.

Certain grants also impose limits on what you can receive for a second bachelor’s degree.

Recommended: Can You Negotiate Financial Aid?

Can a Student Receive a Pell Grant for a Second College Degree?

A Pell Grant is a type of need-based federal grant. Grants are a type of aid that you don’t have to repay.

You cannot receive a Pell Grant if you’ve already received an undergraduate degree.

In some cases, students enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teaching program may be eligible to receive the Pell Grant. However, there are more stipulations — you cannot receive an unlimited amount of Federal Pell Grant funds, according to federal law. The Federal Pell Grant limit you can receive over your lifetime — Federal Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) — is limited to six years.

During a single award year, you can receive up to 100% of a scheduled Pell Grant Award, though it is possible to receive up to 150% of your scheduled award. For example, you may take classes during the fall, spring, and summer and therefore receive more than the scheduled 100%. However, you can receive the Pell Grant for no more than 12 terms, or about six years, because the six-year percentage equals 600%.

Using Funding From Financial Aid for Second Bachelor’s Degree

Financial aid for a second bachelor’s degree can include work-study, scholarships, federal student loans, and student aid for military spouses. You can think of your financial aid award as a jigsaw puzzle — these individual pieces fit together to form your award. Let’s take a look at the types of aid you might receive.

Work-Study

When you file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), you may receive a work-study award — yes, even if you’re working toward earning a second bachelor’s degree. As long as you apply for part-time work-study jobs for a second degree on campus (sometimes off-campus jobs are available) you may work up to the amount you receive on your work-study award. The amount you can make depends on factors including your level of need and the funds your school has available for work-study.

It’s important to remember that work-study is not “automatic money” — you must apply for a job and work toward the number of hours shown on your award.

Scholarships

Scholarships have a diverse eligibility requirements and some may be open to learners seeking a second bachelor’s degree. Scholarships may come from a wide variety of sources, including the institution you apply to. It’s a good idea to ask the financial aid office at each school for more information about the types of scholarships available to you because each college and university has various requirements for earning scholarships. For example, some may be based on merit and others may be based on financial need.

Other organizations, such as clubs, foundations, charities, businesses, local and state governments, and individual philanthropists, may also offer scholarships.

Recommended: Scholarship Search Tool

Federal Student Loans

You may qualify for federal student loans as long as you are under the aggregate federal student loan limit for dependent students of $31,000, with no more than $23,000 in subsidized student loans. Independent students are limited to $57,500 and cannot go over more than $23,000 in subsidized loans.

Undergraduate students can take advantage of Direct Subsidized Student Loans or Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which must be repaid with interest. Subsidized student loans are need-based federal student loans in which the government pays the interest while you’re in school (though you’ll pay the interest after school). Unsubsidized student loans are non-need-based federal student loans in which the government does not pay the interest while you are in school.

For loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2022, and before July 1, 2023, undergraduate students can take advantage of both Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans for an interest rate of 4.99%.

Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans

Student Aid for Military Spouses

If you are the spouse of a military member, you may be able to have your military member transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to you based on your loved one’s military service, particularly if they are on active duty or in the Selected Reserve.

Your loved one must have completed at least six years of service, agreed to add four more years of service, and must also be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Your active duty military member must use a Transfer of Entitlement (TOE) before you can apply for benefits.

What Do I Need to Do to Use Financial Aid for a Second Bachelor’s?

You can file the FAFSA for second bachelor’s degree financial aid and accept the aid award that comes from the school of your choice. Let’s go over each of these steps. Don’t forget to check out SoFi’s FAFSA guide.

Applying for FAFSA

You must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, to qualify for federal student aid. The FAFSA form online asks you to report on your personal financial information, including tax information and your savings and checking account balances. The FAFSA information also helps colleges, universities, and private financial aid providers decide how much state and institutional aid you may receive.

Once you file the FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes the information you’ve entered on the FAFSA. The SAR reports a variety of information including:

•   Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an index number that determines your eligibility for student aid

•   Your eligibility for federal student loans

•   Your eligibility for Federal Pell Grants

•   Whether you’ve been selected for verification, which is a process that some students undergo to confirm that all the information is accurate on the FAFSA. Students may get selected randomly for verification and the school may also select them for verification. They may also get selected if the Central Processing System found problems with the FAFSA. The financial aid offices at the schools on your list can help you through the verification process.

Once you complete everything, you’ll receive a financial aid award from the schools on your shortlist.

Accepting Financial Aid

After receiving your financial aid award, it’s important to go through your full award to make sure you understand it, line by line. If you don’t understand a portion of your award, call the financial aid office of the school that sent it to you. They should be able to explain your full award to you in detail.

The school will generally explain how to accept your financial aid award in the email or packet that you receive. You can go through each type of loan, grant, and scholarship and accept or decline the awards you want. You can also accept the entire award. The financial aid office will let you know about your next steps after your award acceptance and after you pay your enrollment deposit.

Recommended: Ca$h Course: A Student’s Guide to Money

Ways to Pay for a Second Bachelor’s Degree

You can pay for your education using financial aid for a second bachelor’s degree using the types of aid described above (through grants, scholarships, and federal student loans). You may also want to pay for college using some money you’ve saved or that you are currently earning through a part- or full-time job.

Learners can also take advantage of private student loans, which are student loans that don’t come from the federal government. They typically offer higher interest rates than federal student loans but are a great way to fill in the gaps that other financial aid for second bachelor’s doesn’t cover.

Before you choose a private student loan lender, ask questions about interest rates, terms, and repayment options. Note that you’ll lose the option to tap into federal student loan benefits like income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness options if you go the private student loan route.

The Takeaway

If you’re wondering, “Can I get financial aid for a second bachelor’s degree?” you now know that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

But will financial aid pay for a second bachelor’s degree? The answer is that federal financial aid and scholarships may not fully cover all your education expenses, which is why you might consider looking into private student loans.

Let SoFi help you fill the gap. For example, you may want to lean on a combination of scholarships, federal student loans, the money you’ve saved, and private loans. If you borrow too much, you might even be eligible for refund checks from financial aid.

SoFi offers zero origination fees and no prepayment penalties, and you can choose between a fixed or variable rate loan.


Photo credit: iStock/millann

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Yes! Current Students Can Apply for Biden's Loan Forgiveness

Yes! Current Students Can Apply for Biden’s Loan Forgiveness

Editor's Note: Since the writing of this article, the federal Student Loan Debt Relief program has been blocked due to two court decisions; the Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments for both appeals in February. In the meantime, the Biden administration extended the federal student loan payment pause into 2023. The US Department of Education announced loan repayments may resume as late as 60 days after June 30, 2023.

Students currently enrolled in college and graduate school are eligible to apply for forgiveness of up to $20,000 of the federal student loans they’ve received if they meet certain family income requirements, according to information posted by Federal Student Aid (FSA), an office of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

When President Joe Biden’s plan for one-time loan cancellation was announced in August, it was clear that college graduates with federal loans were eligible, as were those who had dropped out of college but still needed to pay back their federal loans.

Now it has become apparent that students enrolled in college before June 30, 2022, will also be able to apply for federal loan forgiveness.

“Borrowers are eligible for debt relief regardless of whether they’re in repayment, in school, or in grace, as long as they meet the income requirements and have eligible loans,” according to the FSA Fact Sheet “One Time Student Loan Debt Relief .”

Recommended: Student Loan Forgiveness: Programs for Relief and Mass Forgiveness

What Are the Requirements for Students to Apply for Forgiveness?

Current students can apply for forgiveness for federal loans if they received them before June 30, 2022. (Unfortunately, this means that freshmen who started this fall aren’t eligible.) If the students are dependents of their parents, FSA will be looking at the annual income of the parents to certify eligibility, not the student.

“If you were enrolled in school as a dependent student for financial aid purposes between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, your eligibility is based on parent income. After you fill out your own application form, we’ll contact you so your parent can complete a Parent Income Form,” explains the FSA Fact Sheet.

Current undergraduates and graduate students can apply for forgiveness, as can those who did not complete their degree. “Current students and borrowers who have federally held undergraduate, graduate, and Parent PLUS loans that were distributed on or before June 30, 2022 are eligible for the relief, said Megan Walter, a policy analyst for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators,” in U.S. News & World Report.

For dependent students, the important question is “What is the income of your parents?” The income cutoff for this one-time debt cancellation is $125,000 for a single parent or $250,000 for the household. If the student’s parents meet this eligibility requirement, then the student could receive up to $10,000 in debt relief.

As for the $20,000 in debt relief that has been announced, the only students eligible to apply for it are those who have already received a Pell Grant and whose parents’ household incomes do not exceed $250,000.

A Pell Grant is awarded to undergraduate students with low or moderate income. If you’re unsure, you can log in to StudentAid.gov to see if you received a Pell Grant.

Recommended: How to Apply for Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness

When Will the Loan Forgiveness Application Be Available?

The application for one-time federal student loan forgiveness went live online on Oct. 17, 2022. After you apply, the DOE will determine your eligibility and will contact you if they need more information. Your loan servicer will notify you when your relief has been processed.

Nearly 8 million borrowers may be eligible to receive relief without applying for it because the DOE already has their income information. But if you are uncertain whether you fall into that group, it’s recommended that you fill out the application.

Qualified borrowers whose repayments are set to resume or start in 2023 are advised to apply without delay in order to receive relief before the pause on all federal loan payments expires after Dec. 31, 2022.

Which Federal Student Loans Are Eligible for Forgiveness?

Subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, parent PLUS loans, and graduate PLUS loans held by the Department of Education (ED) are eligible for forgiveness programs. The following specific types of federal student loans with an outstanding balance as of June 30, 2022, also qualify for relief:

•   William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loans

•   Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans held by ED or in default at a guaranty agency

•   Federal Perkins Loan Program loans held by ED

•   Defaulted loans (includes ED-held or commercially serviced Subsidized Stafford, Unsubsidized Stafford, parent PLUS, and graduate PLUS; and Perkins loans held by ED)

Consolidation loans are also eligible for relief, as long as all of the underlying loans that were consolidated were ED-held loans and were disbursed on or before June 30, 2022.

Additionally, consolidation loans comprised of any FFEL or Perkins loans not held by ED are also eligible, as long as the borrower applied for consolidation before Sept. 29, 2022, says the FSA website.

What About Private Student Loans?

Private (non-federal) loans are not eligible for Biden’s debt relief. Also, if you consolidated federal loans into a private loan, the consolidated private loan is not eligible for debt relief. Once you refinance, you cannot apply for any of Biden’s forgiveness programs for that loan.

Will the Canceled Student Loan Debt be Taxable?

One-time student loan debt relief won’t be taxed at the federal level. Some states may be taxing this debt relief, however, so check with your state of residence for the latest information.

The FSA site said, “If you would like to opt out of debt relief for any reason — including because you are concerned about a state tax liability — contact your loan servicer by phone or email and tell them that you don’t want to receive one-time student loan debt relief.”

Recommended: What Biden’s Student Loan Debt Relief Means for Your Taxes

Is Federal Student Loan Relief a Certainty?

Biden’s debt relief plan may face obstacles. The burden placed on students by their large loans has been a burning controversy for years. Some 43 million Americans are paying down their student loans. The average student debt per person is over $37,000, with half of all student borrowers still owing $20,000 more than 20 years after they entered school.

When President Biden announced his student loan relief plan in August, he said, “In keeping with my campaign promise, my Administration is announcing a plan to give working and middle class families breathing room as they prepare to resume federal student loan payments in January 2023.”

Biden has emphasized that the debt relief targets low- and middle-income families.

Nonetheless, the relief plan has met with opposition. Some say it will worsen inflation, others believe that Biden does not have the authority for a debt cancellation. And there are those who say that debt relief is unfair to people who made personal sacrifices to pay off their loans without government forgiveness.

Several lawsuits have been filed to try to halt the one-time debt cancellation. As of October 12, none had succeeded in stopping Biden’s relief plan.

Recommended: What You Need to Know About the Challenges to Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness

The Takeaway

Current students are eligible for President Biden’s one-time student loan debt forgiveness of up to $20,000 if their federal loans were disbursed before June 30, 2022, and if income criteria is met. If the student is a dependent, the annual income the FSA will be looking at is that of the parents, not the student. That income can’t exceed $125,000 for a single parent or $250,000 for the household.

3 Student Loan Tips

  1. Can’t cover your school bills? If you’ve exhausted all federal aid options, private student loans can fill gaps in need, up to the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books, housing, meals, transportation, and personal expenses.
  2. Parents and sponsors with strong credit and income may find much lower rates on no-fee private parent student loans than federal parent PLUS loans. Federal PLUS loans also come with an origination fee.
  3. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too. You can submit it as early as Oct. 1.

Recommended: FAFSA Guide

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

FAQ

How old do student loans have to be to qualify for Biden’s forgiveness plan?

Federal student loans received by a student before June 30, 2022 will be eligible for one-time relief as long as the income requirement for eligibility is met.

How long do I have to apply for debt relief?

Once the application is live, you’ll have until December 31, 2023, to submit your application for student loan debt relief.


Photo credit: iStock/Drazen Zigic

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
In our efforts to bring you the latest updates on things that might impact your financial life, we may occasionally enter the political fray, covering candidates, bills, laws and more. Please note: SoFi does not endorse or take official positions on any candidates and the bills they may be sponsoring or proposing. We may occasionally support legislation that we believe would be beneficial to our members, and will make sure to call it out when we do. Our reporting otherwise is for informational purposes only, and shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

College financial aid includes grants, scholarships, work-study and federal student loans. Scholarships and grants are forms of aid that generally don’t need to be repaid. Students who qualify for work-study are able to find part-time employment that can help them pay for college costs. Federal student loans are also considered financial aid, but unlike scholarships or grants, generally need to be repaid, typically with interest. Because you’ll be responsible for repaying student loans, it’s essential that you fully understand the terms of borrowing.

After applying for federal aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), students can expect to receive a financial aid award that details the type and amount of aid for which they qualify. Financial aid can be incredibly helpful when trying to finance your college education, but it’s possible that you may not receive enough to fully foot your tuition bill. If that’s the case, there are other options available to help you pay for your education. Continue reading for more information on understanding your financial aid package and the options to consider should you find yourself in need of additional funding.

The Steps to Getting a Financial Aid Package

In order to get any financial aid package for college, the first step is generally to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid , commonly known as FAFSA®. The FAFSA for the 2023-24 school year became available Oct. 1, 2022, and the application cycle ends on June 30, 2024. Some states and colleges have separate deadlines for the FAFSA to determine aid. Consider contacting your school’s financial aid office for questions on the deadline required by your state or school.

Filling out the FAFSA requires some basic financial and income information. If you’re a dependent student, then you’ll need your parents’ financial info as well. For higher income families or those in unique financial situations, this can be a little tricky.

All federal loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized, require a FAFSA in order to determine eligibility. Colleges may also use the FAFSA to determine their own financial aid awards and packages, based on things like expected family contribution and financial need.

After you fill out the FAFSA, the Office of Federal Student Aid at the U.S. Department of Education will process your FAFSA and send you a Student Aid Report (SAR), which is essentially a summary of your information. It’s usually worth reviewing this information in detail to confirm that all of the information is accurate. If you find a mistake after reviewing your SAR, you’ll likely need to update or correct your FAFSA .

The SAR will include the calculated Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is how much you and/or your family can be expected to contribute personally towards your education. (Next year, the EFC will be replaced by the work-study in your aid package does not always guarantee a job. Depending on the school you attend, you may be matched with a job or you may have to apply for and secure your own job.

Federal Student Loans

Federal loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized, and usually have lower interest rates than private loans. There is also typically a cap on how much you can borrow.

Subsidized loans are for undergrads and are awarded based on financial need; additionally, the government pays the interest on them while you’re in school at least half-time, during your grace period, or during periods of deferment.

Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students and are not awarded based on financial need. This type of loan accrues interest while a student is enrolled at least half-time, during the loan’s grace period, or during other periods of deferment.

Borrowers have the option to make interest-only payments during this time, but are not required to do so. If the interest on the student loan accrues, at the end of the deferment period it will be capitalized or added to the principal value of the loan.

There are also PLUS loans for parents and graduate students, which are also unsubsidized.

Beyond Federal Financial Aid: Private Student Loans

Private student loans are not part of a federal financial aid package. Private student loans can be borrowed from a private lender, which typically have more stringent financial qualifications and, like federal loans, must be paid back with interest. Typically, that interest also accrues while you’re in school.

Check the terms of any private student loans you’re considering and the interest rate being offered to get a sense of how they stack up to federal loans. Federal loans also offer benefits that private student loans do not, such as income-driven repayment plans, deferment options, or the cost of attendance, how much gift aid is being awarded, and the loans you’ve received and their terms. This should give you a better idea of how much any federal loans will cost you, and whether there is a gap in funding.

The total cost of college may change over a student’s enrollment, so it generally needs to be calculated each year. Consider things like fluctuation in tuition rates, federal interest rates, and your financial aid award which, among other factors, have the potential to change.

Tips on How to Compare Financial Aid Packages

One of the most important things to look at when comparing financial aid packages for college is the net price. What that means is the actual cost to you, minus all awards. To find the net price you need to figure out the total cost for each college and then subtract the amount of grants and gift aid (e.g., not loans).

Factor in how much you can borrow in loans, and carefully consider the loan terms. And then you can calculate how much each college will cost you additionally out-of-pocket.

Just because one school is giving you more in financial aid doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best financial option. For example, if it will ultimately cost you more because the college is more expensive and, perhaps, you’re going to need to borrow a private student loan with a comparatively high interest rate to cover what your federal aid doesn’t cover.

However, a financial aid package won’t always list the net price and many of the financial aid award letters don’t even necessarily tell you how much a specific college costs in total.

Some letters only outline the direct cost to the school — e.g., tuition and fees — but don’t include room and board or other expenses.

It can be helpful to make your own spreadsheet to ensure you’re comparing apples-to-apples. Figure out the total cost of attendance for each school you’re considering. Include tuition, fees, room and board, and you can even estimate expenses like books, supplies, and living expenses.

Note how much is being awarded in gift aid (grants and scholarships), how much you’re offered federal student loans, and how much it’ll cost you out-of-pocket. If needed, consider private student loans, carefully evaluating their loan terms.

Also understand whether the scholarships or grants in your aid package are a recurring award that will be given to you each year, or whether they are a one-time award.

It’s also worth noting that you are not required to accept all of the loans offered in your financial aid package. You can choose to borrow a lesser amount, which could help save you money in the long run by reducing the money you owe in interest.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the College Board both have tools to more accurately compare financial aid packages and the costs of college.

If Your Financial Aid Package for College Isn’t Enough

Sometimes you do the math, compare all the costs, and feel like your financial aid package for college just isn’t adding up.

Appeal the Financial Aid Decision

It is possible to appeal a financial aid package, particularly if you’ve had changed circumstances or if there was a gap between the cost and the award. While writing an appeal letter might be a first step if your financial aid package isn’t enough to cover the cost of college, it doesn’t guarantee your award will change.

It also might be the case that circumstances change and you lose your financial aid or portions of your award package. In these situations, there are options in addition to or besides appealing.

Apply for Private Scholarships

You can look into private scholarships, of course. These are different from the scholarships and grants awarded by the state or school. However, private scholarships are considered non-need-based aid and will factor into the cost of attendance — and each school deals with that differently.

Get a Part-Time Job

Even if you don’t qualify for the work-study program, you could look for a part-time job. There may be on-campus jobs available, like working as a teaching assistant, or tour guide. Another option is to look off-campus for a job. There may be local restaurants, coffee shops, or stores that are looking for part-time associates.

Consider a Private Student Loan

Private student loans are another tool that could help students fill in financial gaps. Keep in mind, that, as mentioned, private student loans may lack borrower benefits afforded to federal student loan borrowers. If you think a private student loan is something that could work for you, get quotes from a few different lenders to compare the terms and conditions, so you can find the best loan for you. Some student borrowers may also consider applying with a cosigner, who could potentially help them qualify for more competitive loan terms.

The Takeaway

Your financial aid package will state the amount and types of aid you receive. Financial aid includes scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans. Carefully compare your financial aid awards at each college when you are making your college decision.

If you don’t get enough financial aid, you might consider getting a part-time job, applying for private scholarships, or borrowing a private student loan. Keep in mind that, as mentioned, private student loans are generally only considered an option after all other financing has been exhausted. If you’re interested in a private student loan, consider SoFi. SoFi offers private student loans with no origination fees and no late fees.

Find out what rate and terms you may prequalify for in just a few minutes.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Step-by-Step Guide to Filling out a FAFSA Form for the First Time

12 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA Form for School Year 2023-2024

This year, Federal Student Aid (FSA) estimates that filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) takes less than one hour. Read on for the information you’ll need, the step to take before going to the FAFSA site, and what to expect when filling out the application online.

Completing the FAFSA Application for Academic Year 2023-2024

If this is your first time submitting the FAFSA, you’ll be glad to know that it usually takes less time after the first time (yes, FAFSA is submitted annually.) Last year, renewing the FAFSA application took an average 35 minutes, compared to submitting for the first time, which took an average 54 minutes, according to the Department of Education.

Not quite ready to submit your FAFSA, but want an estimate of your student aid package? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator .

Recommended: 6 Reasons to Go to College

Docs You’ll Need to Fill Out FAFSA

Before you start the online FAFSA form, it’s useful to have the info you’ll need handy. That includes:

•   Your Social Security or alien registration ID

•   Driver’s license or state ID

•   Federal income tax returns for 2021, W-2s and other financial documents for yourself (and your parents if you’re a dependent)

•   Most recent bank statements

•   Any untaxed income amounts

12 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

FAFSA opened Oct. 1, 2022, and closes June 30, 2023, for the 2023-2024 academic year. That said, schools and state and scholarship programs have varying deadlines, so it’s a good idea to check and double-check the FAFSA deadlines for everything you are applying to.

Here are the steps to completing the online FAFSA form.

1. Creating Your FSA ID

The first step is creating a Federal Student Aid ID . This is simply the username and password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if your parents’ financial info is required to complete the application, a parent will also need to create a FSA ID.

2. Logging in

Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log into the online FAFSA form . But before you log in, the site will ask if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one you are.

Once you’re in, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to start a FAFSA application for 2023-2024.

You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is a temporary code in case you leave the site before you submit your application. In other words, if you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, you can enter your save key and pick up where you left off.

3. Filling in Your Personal Information

You (the student) will be asked to fill in the following info (you’ll be prompted to hit “Continue” several times):

•   Your Social Security number

•   Full name

•   Date of birth

•   Email address

•   Phone number

•   Mailing address

You’ll then need to answer questions about:

•   How long you’ve lived in your state

•   Whether you are a citizen

4. Filling in Your Student Information

Next, you’ll need to answer questions about your education and future plans. Specifically, you’ll be asked about:

•   Your high school completion status at the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year

•   The college degree or certificate you will be seeking to earn

•   Your college grade level

•   Whether you’d like to be considered for work-study

Additionally, you’ll be asked to provide (you’ll be prompted to hit “Continue” several times):

•   Your driver’s license number (if you have a license)

•   Your driver’s license state

•   Whether you’ve ever been in the foster care system

•   The highest level of school each of your parents completed

•   Your high school name and city (optional) and state

5. Filling in the College Search Section

To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to add the federal school code for each school. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and so use it to provide you a financial aid package. The online form will help you find the codes; you just input the school name, city, and state. You can add up to 10 colleges at a time.

Next, for each school, you’ll need to select your housing plan (on campus, with parent, or off campus).

Recommended: SoFi’s College Search Tool

6. Filling in Info That Helps Determine Your Dependency Status

Your answers in this section will determine whether you are an independent or dependent student— and so determine the financial information you and your parents will need to provide. Specifically, you’ll be asked about:

•   Your marital status

•   Whether you have children that you support

•   Whether you have other dependents who live with you and you support

•   Whether you are on active duty or a veteran of the U.S. armed forces, are an emancipated minor, whether someone other than a parent or stepparent has legal guardianship, and whether you have ever been in foster care or a ward of the court or both parents have died since you were 13.

•   Whether you were homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless on or after July 1, 2022

7. Learning Your Dependency Status

At this point, the smart technology of the online FAFSA form determines whether you’re a dependent or not. If you are single, have no children or other dependents, and answered “none of the above” and “no” on the previous two screens, you are likely a dependent. As a result, your parents’ financial information will be needed in addition to yours to complete the form and calculate your expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).

Please note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.

8. Filling in Your Parents’ Personal Information

You (the student) can answer the following questions about your parents:

•   Their marital status and when they married or remarried

•   Date of parent’s marriage

•   Each parent’s name, Social Security number, date of birth, and email

•   If your parents have lived in your state of residency for at least 5 years

•   Number of other dependent children and other dependents your parents have

9. Providing Your Parents’ Financials

You will need info about your parents’ tax return for 2021 to answer the following questions about:

•   Their tax return status

•   The type of tax return they filed (i.e., 1040 or something else)

•   Their tax filing status (e.g, married-filed joint return)

At this point, you can either use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that pulls their tax return information into the FAFSA form or enter their info manually. In addition to being more convenient, using DRT means you may not have to later provide IRS documentation. (As mentioned earlier, one of your parents will need to create and provide an FSA ID and password to use DRT.)

If you are manually entering your parents financial info, you will need to answer questions about:

•   Their adjusted gross income for 2021

•   Amount each parent earned in 2021

•   Amount they paid in federal taxes in 2021

•   Amounts of other income (such as college grants and tax-exempt interest income)

•   Amounts of child support paid, earnings from work under a Cooperative Education Program, and taxable earnings from need-based employment programs

•   Amounts of untaxed income (such as child support or payments to tax-deferred retirement savings plans)

•   Their assets (including the value of cash and bank accounts, investments, and owned businesses and investment farms)

10. Providing Your Financials

Now it’s time to provide your financial information. Basically, you will be asked for the same info about yourself that you provided in the previous step about your parents’ income and assets.

11. Checking for Errors

Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you’ll see a summary to review. Checking that all the information is accurate may help avoid having to file a FAFSA correction later.

You’ll next need to answer a few more questions that the federal government collects about gender, ethnicity, and race. This info has no impact on whether you will receive financial aid.

Recommended: How Much FAFSA Money Can I Expect?

12. Signing and Submitting

FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent or parents provided information because you filed as a dependent, one of them will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve signed and submitted your application, your FAFSA is complete.

Downloadable FAFSA Form for 2023-2024

Here’s the FAFSA form for 2023-24 if you want to see it before logging in to fill it out — or if you want to print it, fill it out, and mail it in. There’s also a FAFSA worksheet available for download.

What’s Different About the 2023-24 FAFSA

If you heard there was a FAFSA app and wondering where to find it, unfortunately, the myStudent Aid app is no longer in use. This application cycle, the only online access is via the Federal Student Aid site .

Additionally, the 2023-24 form does not ask about Selective Service registration status or drug convictions.

A Few Extra Tips

Completing FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. It can also be tempting to skip it altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or high-income family and you believe you aren’t eligible for aid. However, that’s an assumption that could mean leaving aid on the table. Here are three more helpful tips:

2.    Schools, states, and scholarships have varying deadlines. As stated earlier, FAFSA opened Oct. 1 and closes June 30 of next year. However, the schools and scholarships you’re applying to may require you to fill out your FAFSA before June 30, so it’s best to check each school’s and program’s FAFSA deadlines to avoid losing out on aid.

3.    The IRS Data Retrieval Tool can help you avoid making mistakes. This tool auto-fills your (and your parents’) latest tax information from the IRS database. So instead of having to figure out what the adjusted or non-taxed income was on your parents’ tax return, you can let the tool do it for you.

4.    It doesn’t pay to guess. Not sure how to fill out a section or what the answer is? FAFSA offers helpful tips and clarifications throughout each section of the FAFSA form, so be sure to read all the boxes that appear. Inaccurate answers can result in receiving less financial aid than you’re eligible for as well as needing to file corrections and send in supporting documentation.

Recommended: Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.

However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider a private student loan. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.

SoFi’s private student loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.

Find out more about SoFi Private Student Loan options.

Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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