1.) Go to the FAFSA website: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/#.
You will first have to apply for a PIN. That will take a day or two to process. Once you receive your PIN in your e-mail, go back to the website and complete your application. Beware of imitation websites that promise to help you fill out your application in exchange for a fee. FAFSA applications are FREE, and you cannot get more aid just because you are using a pay site to submit your documentation. In order for you to fill out your application, you will need the following documentation in hand:
a. Your 2010 tax return. (You will file with your parents’ if you are under 24)
b. The codes of the schools you want to attend. (If you don’t know these yet, don’t worry, you can always send your SAR report to other schools later)
NOTE: After you file your FAFSA application, you will receive a determination via e-mail (This usually takes 1 week). This determination will list your estimated family contribution (EFC). That is the amount that you and your family are expected to contribute to your education every year. If it is zero, or near zero, then you will qualify for the maximum of Stafford loans. You will likely also receive a Pell Grant, and you may become eligible for other grants like the First Generation Grant, Rosewood Grant, etc.
2.) Fill out as many scholarship applications as you can. You can find lists of available scholarships on websites like Fastweb.com, Scholarships.com, FinAid,org, etc. Be careful, because these may sometimes simply be phishing scams to allow companies to target you for direct marketing by for profit colleges. It is unlikely that you receive scholarships via these websites, but it is worth a look, just in case you find a scholarship that is particularly well suited to your needs.
3.) Apply for internships, work studies, fellowships, and other financial aid programs that require you to work for your aid. These will help you fund your education, but more importantly, will help you get to know potential employers. If you build a strong relationship with these people now, then you are more likely to get a job once you graduate. You will also have work experience on your transcript, and can expect glowing letters of recommendation from your supervisors. Apply for these through your school’s financial aid or employment office.
4.) If you or your family receive food stamps, WIC checks, housing assistance or other forms of public aid, then you qualify for the WIA program. This program helps you find the funds necessary to pay for your first two years of college, or for an AA / AS degree or certificate in a field of study. It is designed to help re-educate people and give them an opportunity to enter a new career field. These programs are competitive and issued on a first come first served basis. You need to contact your food stamp office immediately to find out about this program. Don’t waste time applying. The worse that can happen is that they run out of funds.
5.) Apply for private loans. You can do a Google search for student lenders. You will find dozens with various interest rates, repayment schedules and stipulations. These will help you cover any expenses not paid for by grants and scholarship funds. Because of the state of the economy, you’ll likely be expected to pay a portion of your loan back while you are in school.
Hope this helps.