Applying for financial aid is a trying process. Here are ten tips to make things a little easier.
1. If feasible, try simplifying your financial life the year before you begin the aid process. Do you have six bank accounts and only use one? Close five of them. Debt in multiple areas? Attempt to consolidate your debt. Cut up some credit cards, cash out over-due bonds, and generally make your financial goings-on as simple as possible.
2. Do your taxes as early in the year as possible. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly referred to as the FAFSA) is based primarily on your taxes. Although you can estimate your past year’s income when filling out the FAFSA, your life will be significantly easier if you have your completed 1040 in front of you. To wit: many of the questions on the FAFSA refer you to a specific line and number on your most recent 1040 for the answer.
3. Fill out a hard copy of the application before you begin the online process. You will be amazed by the amount of required information that you will need to look up. Begin the online process knowing that you already have all the answers and it will be half as time consuming.
4. Check with potential schools for their supplementary form. Crazy as it sounds, many colleges and universities have another form you have to fill out to begin the financial aid process at their particular school.
5. Know thy deadlines. You will have to submit your financial aid information (FAFSA and supplemental forms) long before you know if you have even been accepted to the school. If you miss these deadlines, you will lose “priority” for funds and loans.
6. Apply for financial aid at lesser institutions. Even though you or your child may attend a more prestigious school, the financial aid package the lesser school offers will almost always be better. And for good reason: the less prestigious school knows that a good candidate applied, and it wants to make attending as appealing as possible. Use their package to bargain a little with the more desirable school, whether it is for more loans, better rates, or more funding.
7. Look into other sources of funding. Most people who boast that they had full-rides through school because of scholarships probably got numerous little scholarships, not one big one. Do online searches for obvious and arcane scholarships (duct tape, anyone?) or invest in a big book that has thousands of scholarships listed.
8. Look into other sources for loans. Although federal loans are the most popular, there are many smaller loan providers. Each school has a relationship with at least one private loan provider in order to offer students competitive rates.
9. Be prepared to get some difficult feedback. For instance, instead of increasing the amount of your loans, the government may tell you to mortgage your home. Or, when negotiating with schools for money, they might say, “Well, since State U is offering you such a better package, you should go there. We won’t offer you that.”
10. Lastly, remember that student loans, even hefty ones, are not as bad as other types of debt. Compared to credit card debt, student loans are considered very benign. Additionally, students can begin doing work-study in college (meaning an on-campus job) and begin paying off some of the cost immediately.