The only thing predictable about today’s economy is that it will have an impact on just about every aspect of life. To avoid creating unmanageable financial obligations, students planning to attending college or career school should sort out their budgets ahead of time and take advantage of every available funding resource, including federal and state financial aid.
Here are 10 financial aid tips from The Chronicle of Higher Education:
1. Apply, apply, apply
Many families will be affected by the economy and financial situations may change from one week to the next. This means that students ineligible for financial aid now maybe become eligible with any change in income, so you should always fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year, even if you think you won’t qualify for aid.
2. Know and meet financial aid application deadlines
Be aware of the deadlines for your financial aid application paperwork and meet them. Keep in mind that you have to apply for financial aid every year, it’s not a one time thing. Also, the deadline at your college may be different from your best friend’s college down the road, so make sure you know the deadline for your college.
3. Financial aid application requirements vary from school to school
All schools require a FAFSA form but some colleges require an additional form – the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. Requirements for grants and scholarships may also include additional paperwork.
4. Understand the definition of Expected Family Contribution
The family contribution is the amount that a family can contribute towards the student’s school costs, as determined by the college. The family contribution is based on the information the student provides in the FAFSA and sometimes the CSS/Financial Aid Profile forms. The dollar amount of the family contribution is not necessarily what a family will pay and the amount could differ depending on the college.
5. Know the overall cost necessary to attend college
It important to calculate costs for books, supplies and transportation, in addition to tuition, fees and housing when considering paying for college. As usual, the amount a student receives for these additional costs will vary depending on the school.
6. Understand that there may be a difference between a student’s eligibility and a student’s need
If a student can meet all the requirements for a Pell Grant, their college must award them the funds. However, because a student is eligible for a Pell Grant does not automatically make them eligible for other types of aid.
7. Know the difference between need-based and merit-based financial aid
Merit-based aid is aid given to students based on their academic performance. Need-based aid is awarded to students based specifically on their family’s documented financial circumstances.
8. Get educated in the many types of financial aid
Students can receive federal aid, state aid and/or institutional aid. Students can receive aid in the form of grants, loans or work. And, for the record, colleges see loans as a type of aid.
9. Read your financial aid award letter carefully
Award letters vary so make sure you are aware of whether your aid is a grant or a loan. Also, check to find out if your aid is renewable every year so that you can make the necessary arrangements regarding deadlines or finding a different means of aid.
10. Didn’t get the financial aid you wanted? Appeal the award letter
If your family’s financial situation changes for any reason, contact the financial-aid office at your college to discuss aid options. Many college financial-aid offices will do their best to assist families as unexpected situations arise and this year colleges and families alike are expecting such situations.
Since your financial situation may change in the coming months or more, be thorough and careful in your efforts to receive financial aid so that you can continue on your path toward an education and the possibility of a brighter future. If you apply the above 10 tips to managing your student aid, you will improve your chances of receiving financial aid despite the unpredictable economic times.