10 Financial Aid Tips For Students Pay for college
With the cost of college education rising – tuition and fees at public national universities have jumped 211% over the past 20 years – many students and families are relying on external sources to help pay for their education post-secondary education and seek financial aid advice.
Financial aid falls into two categories: merit-based and needs-based.
Universities and colleges distribute merit grants based on academic achievement and talent rather than a family’s family income. Counselors at the University of South Dakota, for example, review ACT scores and high school diplomas during the admissions process to determine eligibility, says Lindsay Miller, interim director of financial aid at school.
The federal government, state governments, and colleges provide assistance as needed in the form of grants, scholarships, co-op, and loans. A student’s level of financial need is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. For a smaller number of schools, mainly private colleges, it may also be necessary to complete the CSS profile.
Private scholarships are usually the only source of help that requires additional or separate application, says Shannon Vasconcelos, director of college finance for Bright Horizons College Coach.
The process of figuring out how to pay for college can be daunting and time-consuming, so here are 10 expert financial aid tips.
1. Don’t make assumptions about financial aid eligibility.
Deciding not to apply for financial aid can be a mistake, says Vasconcelos.
“There is a good chance that you are, in fact, eligible,” she adds. âDon’t assume that because your neighbor, who you think has roughly the same amount of money as you, doesn’t qualify, you won’t qualify. You have no idea what’s going on. goes into other people’s household finances. “
2. Do not buy according to the sticker price.
It can be tempting to ignore a college due to the high price tag. But in almost all cases, the sticker price isn’t what a student is actually going to pay, says Melissa Yakabouski, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.
Families should pay attention to the net cost, which is the price of the sticker minus grants and scholarships. This can be determined using the net price calculator on the websites of most colleges.
A student answers questions about household finances, grade point average, test scores, and extracurricular activities. These responses are used to estimate the amount of grants and scholarships a college could award to the student. The financial aid numbers are then subtracted from the total cost of attendance to predict what a family might pay.
3. Avoid paying third parties for scholarship research.
There are many outside scholarships available, including through churches, employers, local businesses, and philanthropic organizations. Miller recommends that a student start looking for scholarships a year before funds are needed.
But she cautions against paying someone to research scholarships and against disclosing personal information such as a social security number. There are free resources to use, including the College Board, FastWeb.com, and the US News Scholarship Finder.
4. Use the IRS data recovery tool.
It can be easy to make a mistake on the FAFSA, but using the Internal Revenue Service’s data recovery tool can reduce filing time and error rates, experts say.
Instead of manual entry, the virtual tool automatically transfers federal tax return information from the IRS to a student’s online FAFSA form.
âEstimating income information or making data entry errors on the FAFSA application can complicate the process when it is time to offer financial aid,â wrote Courtney Henderson, director of the University of Student Financial Center. Oklahoma, in an email.
Those who have filed a US tax return with the IRS are generally eligible to use the tool, but there are exceptions.
5. Be aware of deadlines.
The FAFSA opens every October 1, but the federal deadline to apply is only June 30 of the following year. State and college deadlines may be earlier.
If you miss a deadline, you risk leaving money on the table.
âTypically, forms are submitted once online to all of your colleges that need them,â says Jeff Levy, co-founder of Big J Educational Consulting in California. “What this means is if you submit the FAFSA, say, once to all colleges, you have to submit it before the college with the closest deadline.”
6. Apply early.
Students must not only meet deadlines, but also apply early, as some financial aid is granted on a first come, first served basis. Pay attention to priority deadlines, experts advise.
States such as Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington have deadlines “as soon as possible after Oct. 1” because “allocations are made until funds are exhausted,” according to the Federal Student Aid Information Center of the Department of Education , or FSAIC.
âDepending on the state you live in this may matter (when you file) as well as the school’s own priority deadlines for the FAFSA and whether they have a separate deadline for the CSS profile,â says Timothy Saulnier , director of financial aid at UMW.
7. Check your emails regularly.
After completing the FAFSA, a student aid report, which includes an expected family contribution to determine financial aid eligibility, is usually sent to the applicant’s email address. Colleges can request additional information by email.
âMake sure you pay attention to your email in order to comply with all requests,â says Vasconcelos.
8. Look at the out-of-pocket expenses.
At first glance, financial aid from one college may seem more important than an offer from another school. But watch out for reimbursable costs.
âYou can look at a private school that costs $ 50,000 and they give you $ 30,000 in aid, for example,â Saulnier says. âThe direct cost is $ 20,000. And then let’s say the UMW only gives you $ 11,000 but the cost (of attendance) is $ 30,000. The net is $ 19,000, for example. Even if a school gives you a lot more help, it might not necessarily be better financial help. ”
9. A school’s first offer is not always the final offer.
The FAFSA requires “previous” year tax information, which may not reflect the current income or employment status of a student or his parents. If family finances have changed for the worse, a student should alert their college’s financial aid office to explain the changed circumstances and request a financial aid review, known as an appeal.
But changes to financial assistance programs are not limited to specific circumstances. A student with a merit-based scholarship, for example, may try to negotiate a higher offer, Vasconcelos says.
âThere is no real downside to doing it,â she adds. “The worst thing they would do is say ‘no’. Families are often surprised at how often they say ‘yes’ and throw away a few thousand dollars more for you.”
10. Contact college financial aid offices with any questions.
Additional details on specific financial aid requirements or deadlines are available on the websites of many colleges. But if the information is still not clear, call or email the financial aid office.
The FSAIC also serves as a resource. Questions about federal assistance can be answered by email, phone, or online chat.
âIt’s never too early to consider paying for college,â Miller says. âYou absolutely want to educate yourself and be proactive. University admissions counselors will be a great resource to find out about scholarship opportunities, and financial aid offices will be helpful throughout the financial aid process for students.”
Are you trying to finance your studies? Get advice and more in the United States Pay for college center.