Paying for college has long been a source of financial stress for students and their families. Substantial financial aid for college is available if you know the proper paths to follow, but the fact that more students are applying to colleges than ever before also means that more students are applying for financial aid as well.
On April 24, 2011, The Columbus Dispatch reported that approximately one million more students have already filed federal financial aid forms for the upcoming school year compared with this same time last year. As of last week, 10.4 million aid requests had been filed—an 11.5 percent increase over last year.
Increasing college tuition and fees, when coupled with our lackluster economy, stagnant federal grants and decreasing state funding, is enough to make some students give up hope. Don’t allow yourself to join the masses and make the mistake of giving up too soon—try your hardest to get more financial aid for college!
When it comes to financial aid, filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is of utmost importance. Many students and families make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to fill out the FAFSA. Because some grants are distributed on a “first come, first served” basis, it’s best to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible.
In addition to federal and state deadlines, individual colleges may also have FAFSA deadlines. The U.S. Department of Education advises students to check with the colleges that they are interested in attending and also ask about the school’s definition of “application deadline.” Find out whether the deadline means the date the school receives your FAFSA, or the date your FAFSA is processed.
Similar to the way that people often have to come right out and ask for a raise at work, it’s rather unlikely that a university’s financial aid office will contact you after you received your award letter to offer you more money. Should you get in touch with the school and ask, “Is this the best you can do for me?” though, you might be able to receive more financial aid for college.
The April 24 Your Money section of The Philadelphia Inquirer explains that some colleges will “sweeten the deal” if you ask. Explain that you’d like to attend but the school is more expensive than others that have admitted you. Ask if the college will make it more affordable for you, the column advises.
The FAFSA is filled out using the previous year’s tax returns. Considering the current unemployment problems in the United States, it’s highly likely that a parent whose income was used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution has since lost their job. Plenty of other variables can also affect someone’s financial situation, such as a divorce or death in the family, or a serious health problem and the mounting medical bills that come along with it.
Most colleges have some type of form that students can fill out to report unusual or changed financial circumstances, such as Monmouth College’s Appeal for Review of Unusual Circumstances or Bethel College’s Special Circumstances Form.
Although policies will vary from school to school, documentation—copies of pay stubs, termination letters, medical bills, and the like—is also typically required. Don’t hesitate to contact a college’s financial aid office to explain your new financial situation. You may be eligible for more financial aid for college.
If you’ve been accepted to more than one college or university, your financial aid awards are probably different at every school. Some financial aid officers find the practice annoying and some colleges even claim to have “no negotiation” policies, but don’t be afraid to show a financial aid officer at one college your financial award package from another.
“There’s certainly no harm in asking a college to review an aid decision,” Mark Lindenmeyer, a financial aid director at Loyola University Maryland, told SmartMoney, a division of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network. He was sure to point out that Loyola “does not negotiate, and we do not match other colleges’ aid offers.” That said, you can’t expect money miracles, but asking a college to take a look at your award from another school might help you receive more money from the college you’d rather attend.
Don’t forget about outside scholarships. Parents’ employers, churches, community groups, philanthropic organizations and more often offer scholarships for college. Some students take an alternate route and create their own scholarships, holding fundraisers or utilizing the services of websites such as SponsorMyDegree and GreenNote.
If you’ve made the decision to continue your education but the financial stress associated with paying for college is getting to you, consider the above-mentioned tips along with tuition payment plans, living at home to save room and board costs, or attending a community college for two years before transferring to a four-year university.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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