Here in New York and in Buffalo, there are a lot of options for financial aid. This is great news, because it means that one way or another, you can afford to go to college. However, it can get really confusing. This guide aims to lay out in plain english the various sources of financial aid available to you, and how to go about applying for each of them. Here are the options I will cover, in the order that you should apply for them:
The sources of financial aid above are basically in order of importance. The FAFSA can give you a bunch of grants or loans towards any school, and allows you to apply for all the rest of the sources of financial aid. It is open to most people living in the US, and completely based on financial need.
After you do the FAFSA, if you are a NYS resident, you can do the TAP application. The TAP application offers more money towards paying for most schools in NYS.
You can apply for the Say Yes Buffalo scholarship at any time in your process, as long as it's before May 1st of your senior year (at least for 2018). This one pays a percentage of your tuition based on the length of your enrollment in the BP: 65% if you've been enrolled since 9th grade, 80% if since 6th grade, 95% if since 3rd grade, and 100% if since Kindergarten. It is valid at public schools in NYS, and some private schools too, and the great thing is that it gets tacked on to the money that comes from the FAFSA and the TAP - so if you get 50% of your tuition from the FAFSA, Say Yes will pay the other half!
If you're not eligible for Say Yes Buffalo, the Excelsior Scholarship may pay for your tuition at a SUNY or CUNY school. It's based on income, and pays for tuition for most families that make less than $100K. However, it comes with a 1-1 requirement to live in NYS - not a huge deal, but something to think about!
If you're going to a private school that doesn't honor Say Yes Buffalo scholarships, then the Enhanced Tuition Awards (ETA), in conjunction with the TAP award, can provide $6,000 towards tuition, based on need (income below $110,000). This one comes with the same contractual residency obligation as the Excelsior.
Finally, outside scholarships that don't come from the government or Say Yes can often be necessary to make college affordable. There are thousands of scholarships out there, and many different resources that list them, but it can be a long and difficult process to apply.
what: The application to receive money in the form of grants (free money!!) and loans (have to pay it back, but still useful) from the federal government.
when: The deadline depends on your college, but for some it is as early as March 1. The official deadline is in June of the year for which you are seeking aid, but you should do it ASAP.
what you'll need: If you're a dependent of your parents or guardians, you need their tax returns (1040 or 1040EZ form, usually) from 2016. If they didn't file taxes, you'll need their W2 forms (2016). If you filed taxes in 2016, you'll need your tax returns (1040 or 1040EZ). You'll need to know the social security numbers of you and your parents/guardians, and the date of marriage/divorce/separation of your parents, if applicable.
The FAFSA is the first and most important resource for financial aid. It is basically a prerequisite for all other sources for student aid, and it can be a huge source of money for your tuition. It is also the biggest pain to apply for, so get it out of the way first, and as soon as possible! Start now by going to the FAFSA website, and clicking "Start a new FAFSA." Make your FSA ID, and start your FAFSA for the coming school year: if it's Spring of 2018 right now, then you would do the 2018-2019 application. If you're financially dependent upon your parents/guardians (you'll know if you aren't, because you'll have special paperwork saying you're an emancipated minor, McKinney Vinto Status, a Ward of the State, etc.), then you'll have to input their financial information. This means that you need to get your hands on a copy of their tax returns (IRS 1040, usually).
Go slowly and be careful while filling out the FAFSA. The information is important - if you put something in wrong, you'll be asked to correct it later with extra paperwork, which may delay your money. If you're unsure on something, look at the detailed description in the right panel, google it, and then ask someone who knows what they're talking about (Guidance Counselor, maybe a parent) for help.
Once you submit the FAFSA, you'll be sent to the confirmation page. Don't close it! There's a link on that page that can send you straight to the TAP application, which is convenient. Otherwise, you have to wait 3 days for your FAFSA to get processed into the state database.
what: This application is very similar to the FAFSA in its purpose: it is an application for grants and loans from the government of New York State, and is available to pretty much all residents of NYS.
when: You should do this immediately after completing your FAFSA - it shouldn't take nearly as long.
what you'll need: The 2016 state tax returns for yourself and your parents/guardians (if you're a dependent). In most cases, this is the IT-201 form. If your parents/guardians didn't file taxes, you'll need their W2 forms.
The TAP Application is the second most important resource for students in NYS! You can open it directly from the confirmation page of the FAFSA. If you closed the confirmation page, then you'll have to wait 3 days for the FAFSA to get processed, and then you can start the application. You can find it here.
First, create an HESC PIN, which you'll use to log on to the application, and write it down on your phone! Then you'll be able to go into the application. Most of the information should be pre-filled from the FAFSA, so you'll mostly be confirming its correctness. The TAP will have pre-filled one college from the list that you put into the FAFSA - if you have confirmed that you'll be attending a school, change it to that one. If you haven't decided yet, it shouldn't really matter too much what school is in there.
The application will then ask you to confirm/add more financial information. Don't speed through this part! Often the pre-filled income information is incorrect, and this could result in you having to do extra paperwork. Check the numbers against the numbers in the IT-201 or W2s.
After you're done with your and your parent/guardian financial info, you'll be able to submit the application. You don't need any other signatures for this one - just your own!
what: The application for a grant towards your tuition, based on how long you've been enrolled in the Buffalo Public School System.
when: due by May 1st of your senior year of high school
The Say Yes scholarship is an incredible opportunity for students who have been enrolled in the Buffalo Public School system continuously since at least 9th grade. It provides at least 65% and up to 100% of tuition in all SUNY and CUNY schools, and a lot of private schools too. The percentage is calculated from the length of your enrollment in the BPS, and can be found here.
The application is straightforward. Go to the application and sign in as a new student. You'll enter your student ID number and some other information, and then the application will continue to a page where you'll be mostly confirming pre-filled information that comes from the BPS database. Confirm all this stuff, and fill in the remaining fields, and then submit the application.
After this, click on "My Colleges" on the left-hand menu bar, and fill in the information for any colleges you're considering attending. Make sure not to check the "Enrolled" box unless you've formally enrolled at the college.
Then, you can return to the main page. You should be able to scroll to the top and see "Tentatively Eligible: xx%." This means that once someone from the Say Yes organization goes in and confirms the application, you'll be eligible to receive xx% of your tuition from Say Yes! If the number is not what you expected or think it should be based on the eligibility information from the Say Yes website, you should ask a guidance counselor about it. If it's incorrect, they'll help you file an appeal.
what: A scholarship that will pay for tuition at a SUNY or CUNY school for eligible students, based on financial need.
when: The application for the 2018-2019 school year is due on July 23, 2018. The application was made available on March 26, 2018, for point of reference.
The Excelsior Scholarship pays for full tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for most students with family incomes of less than $100,000. It is a relatively quick application that only requires some demographic info, and family income information, which is available on the IT-201 form. The major caveat with this scholarship is that it is a 1-1 NYS residence requirement: for as many years as you accept the scholarship, you must live/work in the state of New York, or else repay the scholarship as a loan. So if you used the scholarship for a 2 year associate's degree, you would be required to live and work in NY for 2 years after graduating. The application is available here.
what: a scholarship for NYS residents attending a participating private college
when: The application for the 2018-2019 school year is due on July 31, 2018.
The ETA pays $6,000 of tuition at participating private colleges in NYS (through a combination of state grants, TAP grants, and the school's money), provided you are a NYS resident with a family income less than $110,000. The application is very similar to the Excelsior: it only requires some demographic info, and family income information, which is available on the IT-201 form. Like the Excelsior, this scholarship carries a 1-1 NYS residence requirement: for as many years as you accept the scholarship, you must live/work in the state of New York, or else repay the scholarship as a loan. You can find more info here.
External scholarships can be a great way to pay for school, and are certainly preferable to loans: if you are going to have to pay anything out of pocket or take out loans, then apply for external scholarships! The application processes can range from highly involved, with multiple essays, to very simple. The best place to look is your college's website: they may have scholarships that are available only to students at your college, making them much more attainable. Next, you should check with your high school's guidance office. They may be able to point you to scholarships available to only students in your school, or that you would be well suited for. And finally, when looking for scholarships in the wide world out there, the quantity is overwhelming. Take a look at Fastweb and The College Board to start your search. It's best to apply for scholarships that are more specific in their eligibility - you're going to have a better chance of getting a scholarship that's targeted at a very specific group of people (e.g. first-generation African-American students whose parents emigrated from x country) than one that everyone can apply for.