Finessing Financial Aid: 10 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Financial Aid

Paying for a higher education can be stressful on both you and your family. From outrageous tuition costs, laughable book prices, and the overall money that a family is expected to shell out to send one child to college, the entire process can be daunting. While the FAFSA is available for students to fill out, and most do, many students are still presented with a disappointing awards package that only covers a small portion of their tuition and fees. Before you throw away your dream of being the next Olivia Pope, consider these 10 ways you can make sure you squeeze every available dollar out of financial aid.

Fill Out Your FAFSA Correctly

That seems like it should be a no brainer. You should of course enter the information that the form is asking for and simply send it in. Turns out that many students and parents fill out the FAFSA incorrectly each year by either entering the wrong information or skipping portions of the form completely which leads them to missing out on aid that they need. Sit down with your parents and comb through the application carefully making sure you have all of the numbers and details correct. If you have any questions, reach out to FAFSA and just ask.

Fill Out Your FAFSA Early

Like everything else when it comes to applying for college, there is a strict deadline for filling out the FAFSA form each year. While there may be special circumstances that hold you up and may lead to you being able to work something out with the financial aid department of your school, generally the deadline is set for a reason. To maximize the amount of aid you receive, you want to get your application in early. If you want a slice of the grant and work study money, complete your FAFSA as soon as you can.

Don’t Lie

Much like tax season, some people get it in their heads that a few fibs and number fudging here and there on the FAFSA form won’t hurt anyone. After all, the government has enough money to throw in a couple extra thousand for your education. However, they don’t. FAFSA and the IRS work hand and hand to weed out people that are not being honest on their forms and they may even throw in a $20,000 penalty or even jail time, depending on how severe the offense is. Don’t lie because they will find out and it’s not worth putting your future education on the line.

Be Ready To Appeal

We’ve talked about how to appeal a disappointing financial aid package on the blog before. It is possible that, even if you do everything correctly and the need is there, you still may not receive enough financial aid to cover your school expenses. Research your potential school’s appeals process and be ready with the right documentation to appeal their decision. It may seem like a long shot but the appeals process can be the difference between affording school and not.

Stay On Top Of The Financial Aid Office

Once you’ve filled out all of the forms, double checked every line, and submitted your paperwork, you may feel like everything is complete and you just have to sit back and wait for your aid package to roll in. However, if the school year is approaching and the clock is ticking with no word from financial aid, it is up to you to stay on top of them and make sure there isn’t something that you are missing. Yes, they are supposed to notify you if your application is being held up for any reason but there are endless circumstances that can hinder that or slow the notification process down. You want to smooth out any bumps as quickly as possible. Contact your school if you haven’t heard from them about your award and continue to do so until the issue is resolved.

Apply To Multiple Schools

Every student has a dream school that they would love to imagine themselves graduating from in 4-5 years. You should definitely throw your hat into that ring. However, just like investing, you should diversify your applications for a better financial aid package. If you are accepted into your top school and your number 2 but the second offers a better aid package, you can use it as leverage to negotiate better funding from your top school. Remember, it’s all about finessing.

Spread Your College Money Around

So grandma gave you a check for $5000 to go towards your college education when you graduated from high school. While the gesture was very thoughtful, you want to make sure that $5000 is not held against you when applying for financial aid. You want to ensure that your college savings are not put in your name. When FAFSA looks at a student’s assets, they are assessed at a higher rate than the parents which will greatly affect your overall package. Move grandma’s check to your parent’s savings account, a savings bond, or checking account to avoid this all together.

Are Your Parents Separated? Use That!

If your parents are divorced or otherwise separated, the financial aid department will only consider the income of the parent that you live with most of the time which is 6 months or more out of the last year. While you probably don’t want to go probing around your parent’s personal financial information, have a chat with them to determine which parent would appear more favorable for a larger financial package. In other words, live with the less well off parent for your last year in high school to improve your aid when college time comes around.

Consider ALL Of Your Family’s Special Circumstances

Sometimes, life comes at you hard when you least expect it in the form of a random layoff, unexpected but debilitating illness, or family death. All of these can greatly affect the ability of you and your family being able to pay your way through school. Don’t think that these special circumstances are unimportant when it comes to applying for aid. Everything that would negatively impact your family’s educational contribution should be noted and explained to the financial aid department.

Fill Out The FAFSA

During the 2011-2012 academic year, 20% of students failed to fill out the FAFSA. When asked why they didn’t apply for aid, 44% of those students assumed they didn’t qualify for anything despite 85% of undergraduates attending a 4 year college or university being eligible each year for financial aid. Don’t leave money on the table. Even if you think you don’t qualify for anything, apply anyway because the statistics show that you just might.

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