Applying for financial aid?

With students receiving their college acceptance letters and choosing their schools this spring, the next big question is how they will pay for their education.

The price tag will always be a problem — 75 percent of college students receive some form of financial aid, according to the College Board — but instead of complaining about it, students should rather know how to navigate financial aid.

Applying for aid is overwhelming, especially when counselors expected to assist are sub par. However, all students should apply for financial aid.

Before applying for aid, students should have an idea of their eligibility. Financial needs determine the maximum amount of aid obtainable.

Most commonly, schools determine financial need through a free application for Federal Student Aid form. The application asks a variety of questions such as household information and financial data.

Students should complete and submit a FAFSA form before the June 30 deadline. Keep in mind that some schools may have an earlier deadline, so contact the school's admission or financial aid office to find out when forms are due.

As long as an application is not rejected, there are several financial offerings schools provide through information on a FAFSA form such as grants and loans.

Grants are free money and should always be accepted. Loans can be a bit trickier to comprehend, which is why many students are left buried in debt after taking out certain loans.

Avoid taking out loans with a high-interest rate. Instead opt for low-interest rates like Stafford Loans, given on the basis of financial need. Stafford Loans are available both as subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

Subsidized means the government pays the interest on a loan while a student is in school. Students have to pay back loans with a monthly interest once they are out of school. Subsidized loans are free money until after graduation.

Unsubsidized means that the interest will accumulate on a loan while in school. This can potentially add thousands of dollars to your loan over the course of a college career. They are also not awarded on the basis of need and have higher rates of interest. Avoid these loans if possible, but, if needed, an unsubsidized Stafford Loan is the worst of the best loans to take out.

Because loans must be paid back, it is best to keep all borrowed dollars to a minimum.

In addition to grants and loans, many schools offer work-study programs. Students will receive federal paid jobs supervised by the respective aid office based on need, comparable to the on-campus jobs at SMC. Check with the financial aid office to see what is available.

For those who recieve a poor financial aid package, there are other oppertunities to recieve money for education.

Santa Monica College offers scholarships to students with a good academic standing of at least a 2.5 GPA of 12 units or more and must be enrolled in 6 or more units during the semester applied.

A high percentage of students who apply through the SMC Scholarship Office receive scholarships. However, because a lot of students feel like they do not qualify, the schloarship office will receive only several hundred applications, according to Marcia Fierro, SMC scholarship program staff member.

"Somebody once told me that couselors and teachers would tell students that they wouldn’t qualify for [certain scholarships]," Fierro said. "I was so upset when they told me that."

Fierro hopes that people are not giving misinformation about how to obtain financial aid, and recommends that students come directly to the office to avoid confusion.

"There's a world of cash out there and we want students to know about it,” Fierro said.

Financial help has received a lot of bad stigma lately, especially by students who did not know what they were initially agreeing to. By understanding the terms and accessing all options, financial aid can genuinely help.