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Financial Aid Countdown: Tips for Every Family

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, October 14, 2013

When it comes to financial aid, the most important thing you can do is get a head start. The following tips will help you get results.

Apply for financial aid

  • Remember that you must file for student financial aid every year! Forgetting to file could mean losing certain forms of aid.
  • To file your FAFSA electronically, you'll need a pin number. Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov for instructions.
  • Roughly 600 private colleges require a supplemental aid application called the PROFILE. Check with your school to determine its requirements.
  • Keep in mind that students must be enrolled on a full-time basis (usually at least 12 credits per semester) in order to receive full funding.

 

Talk to your student aid counselor

  • Visit with a financial aid counselor on your campus visit — make an appointment!
  • Ask prospective colleges for an early EFC, preferably in the junior year. This will help you to begin planning for whatever gap will need to be filled.
  • An in-person visit is the best approach if you want to ask if your award can be increased.
  • In the case that a parent has lost their job, ask the aid office to do a projected-year income analysis.
  • When applying for need-based aid, ask the aid officer what percentage of need is met, on average, and how much of it is in the form of grant money.

 

Financial aid information to keep in mind

  • Always shop around for the best deal on loans.
  • Compare all of your award letters to see what your out-of-pocket costs will be and how much total debt you and your child will accrue.
  • Learn about college-tuition tax breaks and work them into your bottom line.
  • Ask an admission officer what the school's graduation rate is.
  • Ask the treasurer's office if the college has a payment plan.
  • Be aware that departmental scholarships are probably not transferable.
  • Remember that room-and-board fees almost always increase every year, as do tuition and fees.
  • Don't sell your house! The value of your home is not considered an asset for federal aid purposes.
  • Don't be fooled into thinking that your child should declare independence for the purpose of getting financial aid for college.

 

Hidden sources of student aid

  • Some schools offer sibling discounts!
  • Many schools have discretionary funds for appeals that are not listed in their printed material.
  • Some colleges offer a guaranteed tuition freeze for four years. Ask yours if this is a possibility.

 

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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