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Afraid of student debt? Here’s how to make sure you’re set with federal student loans

students discussing federal student loans

The fear of student debt can be a major hurdle to graduation. Often, this is because financial aid is automatically, and sometimes negatively, associated with federal student loans. Still more students are hesitant to submit the FAFSA because they think that there is no way that they would qualify for anything.

But, according to Ashly E., CityU Associate Director of Student Financial Services, “All U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens thinking about working on a degree or eligible FA certificate should complete a FAFSA.” So, if filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is something you had never thought of as an option, you could be leaving money on the table and letting finances stop you from earning your degree.

In this article, we’ll be discussing tips to minimize your fear of federal student loans.

Submitting your FAFSA leaves you with zero obligation

Free is in the name, so completing it is of no cost to you! Also, completing the form can take as little as 15 minutes. Once you’ve completed it and sent it to your intended schools, there’s no obligation to use any of the funds you might qualify for. So, if you decide to take a completely different path, there’s no risk and no penalty!

Quick Note: CityU Enrollment Advisor Jon S. mentioned that “for some, the hardest part is creating an FSA ID and setting up MFA.” If this is the case for you, he usually suggests that students plan to set aside about an hour to complete the aid application.

You could potentially qualify for grants you didn’t know existed

The federal aid site describes most grants as “unlike loans, [grants] are sources of financial aid that generally do not have to be repaid.” And there are several grant opportunities that exist for both in-state and out-of-state students. Keep in mind that grants are usually awarded on the basis of need and do have requirements to maintain eligibility, which you can read more about here.

“You should keep in mind the FAFSA asks for income and tax information from two years prior, meaning the 2023-24 FAFSA will ask for 2021 income and tax information,” Ashly said. “If your current financial situation is no longer accurately reflected by the income/tax information reported on the FAFSA (you’re making less now than in 2021), you should connect with our office to inquire about a ‘Loss of Income’ appeal.” (This could potentially help you qualify for available grant opportunities!)

Your aid offer is customizable to your tuition cost and academic need

You can minimize the amount of loans you’d need to repay by only using the amount of aid offered to pay your tuition amount. You can do this by communicating directly to your Financial Aid Counselor your desire to minimize loans, to maximize any grants, and to only use the amount required to meet tuition cost after payment.

Jonah H., CityU Program Support Specialist, offers their advice for when you’re financially planning for the academic year, “Compare your quarterly financial aid amount to your intended enrollment plan (cost per quarter) for the current aid year.” They say that this will help identify any out-of-pocket expense or refunds. Additionally, completing the FAFSA also creates the best opportunity for your potential scholarship award because a majority of CityU’s internal scholarships require that you submit your FAFSA prior to completing the appropriate applications.

Quick Note: If a request is not made specifically to the Financial Aid department regarding your aid offer, the amount you’ve accepted per quarter will automatically disburse. If that amount exceeds the cost of your tuition, a refund will be sent to you to cover any additional academic-related costs. Loans could be a portion of the refund and would have to be repaid.

Your Counselor is here to support you

After you complete your FAFSA, you’ll be sent a report which gives an estimate of what aid might be available for you to use. According to Jessa F., CityU Financial Aid Counselor, “These are just estimates and are not always accurate.” You will need to depend on the aid offer information that comes directly from the institution. Be sure to keep open communication with your Financial Aid Counselors to minimize confusion and stay informed.

Top recommendations from our CityU Financial Services staff:

“Definitely, communication is the key! Don’t be shy; there is no silly question. Financial aid is already confusing for many students, and some are afraid to ask. They shouldn’t be; that’s what we’re here for! If there’s something you don’t understand, please ask.”

-Lea A., Student Financial Services Counselor II

“Complete both FAFSAs!”

-Angela R., Financial Advisor

“If a student does not want to miss out on communications from our office when it comes to additional resources or their own financial aid status, be sure to monitor your CityU email account, as this is our main way of communicating with students.”

-Jessa F., Financial Aid Counselor

“It’s a free application that only costs the student their time. There is help both from FSA and CityU when a student gets stuck or has a question about the FAFSA, and the only way to find out if you’re eligible for financial aid is to ask – or in this case, apply. 😉”

– Ashly E., Associate Director of SFS

The bottom line

Ultimately, submitting your FAFSA is low-commitment, potentially high-return investment that has the likelihood to lower your financial load and decrease your overall academic-related stress. So, do your homework: research your options and speak with your Financial Aid Counselor. And be sure to submit your FAFSA ASAP.

If you have any questions or need additional help when completing your FAFSA, visit our financial aid site, or reach out directly at 206.239.450 or finaid@cityu.edu.

Britney Taylor
Britney Taylor, MS
Having studied and worked in higher education for over a decade, Britney has gained a strong passion for empowering students toward graduation. Originally from SoCal, she’s currently living and working remotely in Atlanta. You can likely catch her at a spin class or watching the latest episode of 90 Day Fiancé.
Published February 14, 2023