The number one, most important things you can do is apply early. Since the application date for the FAFSA was moved to October, rising seniors need to be focused on their financial aid application as soon as the college applications are complete – well before in some cases. Financial aid funds are a finite commodity at every school and money is awarded on a first come, first serve basis. Think your family makes too much to qualify; some colleges will not award merit aid if the student does not have a FAFSA application on file. Fill out the FAFSA…
A big surprise to many families is that colleges don’t have a set sticker price to earn a degree on their campus. They are willing to negotiate. One of the best reasons to apply to multiple schools is to receive multiple financial aid offers. If your favorite school offers a mediocre financial aid package and your third place school makes an outstanding offer, let your favorite school know that they need to do a little more to remain in the running. For most colleges, their first offer is not their best offer. This is the case at private schools more often than at public colleges.
Most students applying to college have classmates, friends and sometime family looking for scholarships too. Stay in contact with these people about what you find and take a look at what they find. By pooling your resources, everyone is likely to discover opportunities they may not have found searching on their own.
If you are awarded private scholarships, they can jeopardize scholarships or grants that are offered by your college. Check with the colleges you are considering to see if they deduct private scholarships from the financial aid packages they offer. It could make a big difference in your out-of-pocket expenses.
When the amount of the financial aid package does not seem to address your financial need, filing an appeal may be a good course of action. There are several reasons to ask the college to take a second look at your estimated family contribution (EFC) and reconsider their offer. The procedure may not be the same at every school but if your family experiences a change in income, change in marital status, medical expenses, has a parent in college or someone in your family has a student loan repayment, definitely file an appeal.
If you need to borrow money as part of your financial aid, direct federal student loans are considered to be the best option, but they have limits on how much you can borrow. The best move in this situation is to consult a financial planner about what is best for your family when borrowing for college.