Understanding College Financial Aid

The FAFSA form is used by schools to put together student aid packages. It opens for the next academic year on October 1 — and the sooner students file, the better. TCU is here to help make process less overwhelming.

Many families are shocked by the sticker price of college. While the cost can be overwhelming, a variety of financial aid sources are available to help you pay for college or career school.

Bethaney Bauman, TCU’s Student Loans Program Coordinator, says it all starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA.

Financial aid offices at colleges and universities — from community colleges to Ivy League institutions — use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for financial aid, including student loans, grants, scholarships and federal work-study programs.

“A completed FAFSA form sets the groundwork for a student’s financial aid package,” Bauman said. “It’s used to determine the expected family contribution and need-based aid at most schools.”

The form is available on October 1, and the earlier the student applies the better, as many states and schools have a first-come, first-served policy in regard to financial aid. With FAFSA critical in the financial aid process, you’ll want to know the correct way of filling it out.

TCU has partnered with studentchoice.org, a provider of affordable private loan financing solutions, to host free webinars on Wednesday, September 30 at 1 p.m. ET and at 6 p.m. ET to make the financial aid process less overwhelming. Register now at https://tcunet.studentchoice.org/national-webinar.

Besides financial aid, students should also think about what can be done to lower college costs. Bauman says young people’s futures should not be limited by heavy student loan debt.

“At TCU, we try to educate students and families, to help them get the information they need before they commit to any student loan,” Bauman said. “While the best option for students who need to borrow money to pay for college is a federal loan — either subsidized or unsubsidized — the reality is many families also look to private loans to fill in the gaps.”

For guideance on understanding private student loans, Bauman recommends visiting TCU’s Student Loans web page. Information on refinancing existing student loans is also available.

“For high school seniors, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that excessive debt is more important than attending the college of their dreams,” Bauman said. “But research shows students who graduate with too much are more likely to feel their education was not worth the money, compared to students who graduate with a manageable amount of debt.”

For those who are out of school and facing their student loan repayments, Bauman has some advice. Most importantly, she says, don’t neglect your payments. And if you’re struggling to make them, ask if you can refinance to a lower interest rate.

While most debts can be terminated through bankruptcy, student loans cannot. They are with you for life — or until you pay them off.

“If you stop making payments on your student loans, your wages can be garnished in order to pay the debt.” Bauman said. “And if you’re unable to refinance, prioritize the loans that have the highest interest rates.”

For those about to start their college journey, it's important to ensure the benefits don't outweigh the costs. TCU is here to help make the process of paying for college clearer by providing information and resources.