Q&A: The Beginner’s Guide to Financial Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is designed to be easy for students and families to fill out, but difficulties can arise. We’re here to help you secure scholarships and student loans, so that your personal finances are less tricky.

Personal finances can be tricky. Even those who understand the ins and outs of saving and spending can find it difficult to talk about. However, for so many, financial aid is what makes college possible in the first place. With that in mind, let’s dive right in.

But where to even start? For help with that, we talked with Michelle McNier, director of financial aid at Alma College. She’s talked to most of the students who attend the college, as well as their parents, at one time or another, and has heard questions surrounding financial aid many times. Once someone has a firm understanding of the basics, Michelle says, she can help with more advanced questions that are more specific to your situation.

Q: What’s the first step to applying for financial aid?

A: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) tells the government what they need to know about you in order to allow you to receive federal, state and institutional need-based financial aid. You’ll need to fill it out to receive grants, work study and Stafford Loans.

Q: When should students fill out the FAFSA?

A: The FAFSA is available beginning Oct. 1 for the following school year, and you should complete it as early as possible. The government is looking for your tax information from the previous two years, so it isn’t a matter of needing to wait. The deadline to apply for the fall term in Michigan is May 1.

Q: Is the FAFSA difficult to fill out?

A: It can be, but help is available. The FAFSA is designed to be easy to fill out, but there are inevitable difficulties that come up, as there are with any form. I would encourage anyone who is having difficulty to contact the Financial Aid Office by calling (989) 463-7347 or email

Q: Do students have to fill out the FAFSA every year, or just once?

A: That question comes up a lot, especially around deadline time. Students must reapply for financial aid each year and maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress to remain eligible.

Q: Do you have any other tips for people with respect to the FAFSA?

A: There are a lot of families who think they might not qualify for financial aid. I tell them to file the FAFSA anyway, especially in their first year. It may open a door you weren’t expecting, which can help fund a college education. If you don’t file, nobody is going to know you might need help.

Q: Are there other types of financial aid available beyond FAFSA?

A: Absolutely. Here at Alma, we offer scholarships and grants, in addition to state and federal aid. We offer student and parent loan options, with financing. Of course, there are various scholarships available through all kinds of organizations throughout the country. The FAFSA doesn’t need to be completed to receive this kind of aid.

Q: What else do we need to know?

A: As students are considering different colleges and universities, and reading the award letters that spell out the financial aid package, they should know these letters can vary tremendously between institutions. That can be very confusing. Having a true grasp on what students are getting from each institution they apply to, and how much they have to pay out-of-pocket is important. I would encourage anyone with questions to reach out to our office. We’re happy to help.

Alma College, in Alma, Michigan, offers scholarships and grants, in addition to state and federal aid, to help students go to college. For more information, visit

Type of blog post

Financial Aid