If you will be paying for college using financial aid, now is the time to begin. In fact, most college students rely on financial aid. College tuition and expenses are rising, so you need to be able to get the most you can from your financial award package. Virtually every college gives out a financial aid package based on your FAFSA, so it is important to fill that out correctly. Here are some tips for maximizing your financial aid.
File your FAFSA early. You can start filling it out online January 1st. Quite a few colleges have deadlines, many as early as February. There is a limited amount of money that colleges have to give out. First come, first served is common. If you have not filed your income tax, or your parents, you can still fill out the FAFSA and use estimates. Bottom line, file your FAFSA early!
Even if you don't have a clue as to if or what you will qualify, fill your FAFSA out anyway. There is other money aid from colleges available, as well as federal student loans, that require a FAFSA to be filled out.
Be sure and fill the form out correctly and completely. Any errors or blanks will cause delays. All lines need to be filled out, even with zeros. If you fill it out online, the process should guide you on every line that must be filled in. Filling it out online is much easier anyway.
A college student is expected to contribute to their education. Your bank accounts and your parent's, will be counted. If you have money in a savings account, you might want to transfer it to a 529 savings plan. If you have a lot of money saved, use it all in your freshman year. That way, your future financial aid award will not be affected. Your parents can put money into an IRA or 401(k) that won't be counted as well.
One thing about your FAFSA to remember. Be sure and not lie or fudge figures. If you are found out, you could be declared ineligible for any financial aid. Be open and honest.
A little know aspect of getting more financial aid is to tell your college of your financial situation if it matters. You can talk to the financial aid officer, or write a letter, stating financial hardships that you and your family are going through. This could get you more aid. Also, if you get different financial aid awards from different colleges, you can use that as leverage for the school you want. Ask them if they will match a better offer. If the college wants you, they may do that.
Financial aid is not just grants and loans. You may need to work in the work-study program. The school also might give scholarships to eligible students who maintain good grades.
The bottom line is to get your FAFSA in now!
More info: Your financial aid award explained.