Apply to Qualify: Maximizing Your Financial Aid Opportunities

It’s your responsibility to take the lead on financial aid, so get organized. Start by knowing the most important facts about applications and eligibility:

1. Double duty: Apply for admission and apply for financial aid at the same time. 

You can’t be considered for any financial aid unless you apply for it. Colleges require both your application for admission and your application for financial aid to determine your aid eligibility. In some cases, you might even apply for aid before you submit your college application. First, check on your college admission deadlines, any college-specific financial aid deadlines and the federal and state aid deadlines. Then, create your own timeline to follow. Apply early!

2. The FAFSA is your friend. 

Eligibility for federal forms of student aid, including government scholarships, grants and federal loans, is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Good news! You need to file only one FAFSA for all the colleges you are considering. Return to your FAFSA often to update it with new information – at the very least, once a year during the time you are in college. Fill out the form online at, complete the PDF version to mail or request a paper copy of FAFSA at 800.433.3243.

The FAFSA deadline has changed for the school year that runs from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018. FAFSA will now be available Oct. 1, 2016 (rather than Jan. 1, 2017). You will use financial information from your and your parents’ 2015 tax return for the FAFSA you complete for the 2017-2018 school year. 

For the school year that runs July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, you can file your FAFSA on Oct. 1, 2017, and use income information from 2016.

For Michigan residents attending the 2017-2018 school year, the deadline is March 1, 2017.

Be timely! Experts recommend that you apply as early as possible, as aid does run out. Consult for complete information.

FAFSA collects demographic and financial information from students and parents to determine an Expected Family Contribution, which is the figure used to determine your eligibility for Federal Pell Grants, other federal financial aid programs and many state programs. EFC is determined by formulas set periodically by Congress. 

Don’t assume the FAFSA is all you need. Some colleges require more in-depth information to award aid. Check with all of your colleges’ financial aid offices individually to get specific information. 

3. Other aid exists, too. 

Beyond federal grants and loans, there are many additional forms of aid available for which FAFSA is not required. Your school’s counseling office is a great resource for learning about community, social, educational or sporting organization scholarship funds. Scour your community for any possible sources of college funding, including your place of worship, libraries and social service organizations. Your parents’ employers might even offer scholarship programs. Typically, you can apply for – and accept – many awards of various sizes to use toward your college tuition and fees.

These sources of aid rarely come out of the blue. Plan to put in the time and effort needed to research and apply for any and all programs available. Spend time each week searching for scholarships and don’t stop once you have started your first year of college. Remember to continue looking for – and applying for – opportunities throughout your college career.

Know the Terms

Refer to this glossary of commonly used terminology regarding financial aid:

FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This document is used to determine financial need for aid.

COA: Cost of attendance, which usually includes tuition, fees, books, supplies and living expenses.

EFC: Expected Family Contribution. The amount parents can pay from their income and assets, the amount students can contribute and any non-repayable gift from any source, such as a grant.

Need-based: Aid for students who demonstrate financial need if they and their families cannot pay for all college costs on their own.

Merit-based: Aid that recognizes excellence in academics, sports, leadership and the arts.

Non-need based: Aid for those who do not demonstrate financial need or who have additional expenses exceeding need-based or merit-based awards. Examples include federal students loans, federal parent loans and various scholarships.

Work-study: Need-based programs that allow students to work part time while enrolled in college. 

Get More Info

Michigan Student Scholarships and Grants

U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid


National Association for College Admission Counseling

– Claire Charlton