Serving Smart: Financial Aid Basics

By Kevin O’Brien, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Today we officially launch our new education blog series, “Serving Smart”.  Woohoo!  Get the word out by telling your friends, your co-workers, your grocer, ummm…your UPS delivery person. TELL.ALL.PEOPLE. Try to think of this blog as one of those chain letters or Facebook posts where if you don’t forward it on to five of your friends you will suffer bad luck.


No, no, I’m only kidding. But really, let’s get this discussion going and please tell your friends.

So, to kick things off, let’s begin with a fun discussion about college tuition (Exciting!). The harsh reality behind education is that it costs money and under normal circumstances, you can’t attend college or a career/tech school without paying for it. There are many reasons people choose not to advance their education, but the most common excuse is, “I can’t afford it.”

To really hit home the realities of college tuition costs, here are some statistics.  Who doesn’t love stats???

According to the Department of Education, for the 2011-12 academic year, the average costs for undergraduate tuition/room and board were estimated to be $14,300 at public institutions, $37,800 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,000 at private for-profit institutions (More stats are available upon request. Hooray for stats!).That doesn’t include books, supplies and a cupboard full of Top Ramen.

Thankfully, for those currently serving on active duty, National Guard or Selective Reserve there are options available to temper the rising costs of education. I’m not talking about the well-known Montgomery GI Bill, Post 9/11 GI Bill and Tuition Assistance programs. Although, we will take an in-depth look at those benefits in next week’s Serving Smart blog. I’m talking about Federal Student Aid, a.k.a FAFSA.

The U.S. Department of Education recently sponsored a webinar event, “FAFSA 101 and the Armed Forces,” that was free and open to service members. I attended and it was awesome! The webinar discussed a wide range of topics about college tuition and programs available to service members and veterans. The different types of federal financial aid (Title IV Programs) include federal grants, federal work-study and federal student loans. But, before we continue, let’s first dispel of a common myth.

Many service members believe they’re not eligible for Federal Financial aid. This is a big fat False-eto!  For those serving on active duty, National Guard Reserve or Selective Reserve you may be eligible to receive federal aid. However, every branch of service has its own policies. So you need to check with your respective service to determine your eligibility. Here are the types of Federal Student Aid available for higher education.

 Federal Grants

  • Pell Grant – Up to $5,730
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) – $100 to $4,000
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant – Up to $4,000
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant – $5,730

 Federal Loans

  • Federal Perkins – Up to $5,500 and up to $8,000 for grad school
  • Federal Stafford Direct Loan – Subsidized $3,500 to $5,500. Unsubsidized $5,500 to $20,500
  • Federal Direct PLUS Loan Program – (Parent/Graduate/Professional) Maximum amount of cost of  attendance minus additional aid

To receive or to be considered for federal student aid, you need to fill out an application. The application is FREE. Go to FAFSA.GOV to fill out your application.

 Things you will/may need to complete your application:

  • Social Security Number (Student or Parent)
  • Your driver’s license number (not mandatory)
  • Your Alien Registration Number if you are not a citizen
  • Federal tax information including IRS Tax Return Transcripts, W-2 information (for your spouse if married, and for your parents if you are providing parent information)
  • Information on investments, savings, and business and farm assets for yourself (and for your parents if you are providing parent information)

So, there’s the quick crash course in Federal Student Financial Aid. I feel like I just wrote a research paper so I’m gonna quit this puppy and get my notes ready for next week’s post on our favorite VA student programs. Keep checking in and please engage in this discussion!


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