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11 Things You Should Know About Financial Aid

Laptop, pen, calculator, mouse in foreground - notebook & pencil in the background, slightly out of focus. You could make the reasonable assumption that the user of these objects is planning their financial aid strategy. Here's a tip that's not in the article: Don't take out more than you need to pay for school. Most living and entertainment expenses should not be dependent upon receiving financial aid.

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Financial aid can be a big help when it comes to paying for an online degree, but first you need to know what kind of aid there is, where to find it and how to apply. Here is a breakdown of things UCF Online students should know about financial aid.

Types of Financial Aid

Before you apply for or accept any form of financial aid, make sure you know the differences between them. One of the most commonly confusing types of financial aid are loans. The United States Department of Education offers direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, but what’s the difference?

Direct subsidized loans are only available to undergraduate students who demonstrate they need financial aid. You do not pay interest on this type of loan while you are at least a part-time student. You also will not have to pay interest for the first six months following graduation or during a deferment period.

Direct unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students. You do not need to prove you are in financial need to accept this type of loan. However, you will have to pay interest while in school, after you graduate and during deferment periods until your loan is paid off. If you don’t, your interest accumulates and can be added to the principal amount of your loan.

There are also grants and scholarships, both of which provide students with money to cover costs without the need to pay anything back. The difference is grants are need-based while scholarships are usually merit-based.

If you have explored and exhausted all of the above, Optional Loans (or Private Loans) can be considered as a last resort. These credit-based private loans are not offered through the United States Department of Education but are funded by banks, credit unions, state loan programs, or other types of lenders. This means they involve varying interest rates, an examination of the borrower’s creditworthiness, and may not offer the flexible repayment terms or protections provided by federal student loans. You will want to get a full understanding of the application process for optional or private loans before moving forward.

Where to Find Financial Aid Information

You can find loan and grant offers under the financial aid section of your myUCF account each semester. There you can directly accept or deny offers.

You can also apply for other grants and scholarships through UCF and outside institutions. Once you’ve accepted these awards, you should notify UCF’s financial aid office to make it easier to use these funds toward tuition. The financial aid department also needs to know this information to determine any appropriate amounts of additional aid you may be receiving.

Financial Aid Tips

Now that you understand the types of financial aid you may be eligible for, here are some tips for securing the help you need.

  1. Start by contacting UCF’s Office of Student Financial Assistance — your first point of contact for any questions, issues or concerns you may have with financial aid. To contact the office, email or call 407-823-2827.
  2. Complete the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This should be the first form of financial aid you apply for. Not only is this one of the most common forms of financial aid students receive, many scholarships and grants require you to complete the most current FAFSA to be considered eligible for any awards. You will need to complete the FAFSA each year you’re enrolled in online courses to ensure you’re receiving all applicable aid.
  3. Apply as early as possible. Financial aid is typically offered on a first come, first served basis, so submitting your application earlier may increase your chances of receiving aid.
  4. Submit your application even if you waited until the last minute. In some rare cases, scholarships or grants actually receive few or no applications. So while it is ideal to apply early, you never know if your last-minute entry will actually land on top. Your application may also secure financial aid later in the current semester or a future semester.
  5. Search for scholarships you qualify for using UCF’s Access to Opportunities Search Engine, also called A2O. You’ll only need to do this once a year and most of these scholarships will not require any further action.
  6. Apply to every scholarship or grant you qualify for, no matter the award size. While it’s tempting to go for “big money” scholarships, small ones can make a difference, too. Especially when you’re able to secure multiple scholarships. Every dollar counts!