How to Find and Apply for State Financial Aid: A Complete Guide

Erin Pettus / Colleges of Distinction »

Every state offers its own resources to help reduce the price of college for students who go to school in their state of residence. Though their requirements may vary, states typically ask students to submit an application for financial aid by a specific deadline, often including the same information that is found on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). We recommend you complete the FAFSA for federal aid, of course, but you might be unsure about what to do for state-specific aid. In this article, we hope to answer some preliminary questions to help you start.

Where to begin?

Because each state’s requirements, deadlines, and resources are different, you must find out the specifics for where you live. The best place to start is the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), whose website can help direct you to the financial aid options you have available as well as the requirements you need to apply. It may also let you know whether you must fill out anything besides the FAFSA in order to qualify for state aid.

The NASFAA website has helpful information, but you should also make an extra effort to consider other things to look out for:

Be aware of early deadlines.

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Note that many due dates for state grants and scholarship applications are set before the dates for those offered nationwide, so you should be prepared by filling out the FAFSA (which becomes available on October 1st of your senior year) as soon as possible.

Some states have a first-come-first-served policy for grants and scholarships, so the earlier you submit, the more likely you will receive as much aid as possible.

(*Keep in mind that while financial aid offered through the state isn’t available until your senior year, other privately funded scholarships may become available to students early in high school. It is never too early to start familiarizing yourself with the different types of financial aid for which you may be eligible!)

Read the fine print.

In most cases, state grants and scholarships are only available to students who decide to go to college in their home state. Research the requirements for your state and plan accordingly. Even if you plan to attend an out-of-state college, however, you might be in luck—many schools will offer tuition discounts to prospective students who live in neighboring states. Check for your eligibility!

Know what’s available to you.

There are several different forms of financial aid out there, so do some studying and familiarize yourself with all the opportunities you have to help lower your college costs. Your state may offer need- or merit-based scholarships and grants, work-study funds, and aid for minority populations. The opportunities are plentiful, but they are also extremely competitive. Dig around for awards for which you qualify and apply to as many as possible. In-depth research will help you find forms of aid that have a smaller pool of candidates than others, giving you a better chance of winning!

Putting it all together.

Without a doubt, research is the most important part of your application for state-funded scholarships. You want to be certain of requirements and deadlines. You want to be aware of every possible opportunity. You want to apply for as many as you can.

Not only can you do a lot of research online, but you can also talk to your high school school counselor for information and advice. They have plenty of experience, so they are sure to know of different scholarship opportunities, what you may be eligible for, and the answers to any questions you might have!

Financial aid can impact your educational experience in significant ways. College could be more affordable than you think. With a thorough search and diligent effort, you’ll be able to lessen your financial burden and focus more on all the best parts of your undergraduate career.