Getting Financial Aid: 5 Tips for Efficient Financial Aid Planning

Getting Financial Aid: 5 Tips for Efficient Financial Aid Planning
Tuition costs are going up, but you can still get more financial aid for school this summer and fall by using these tips.

Paying for college is a top concern for many families with high school students graduating this May. In addition, the federal deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is quickly approaching. The push for financial aid among college students leaves some stranded without any resources to go to the school of their dreams. Many students also believe that it's impossible to get a scholarship unless you have amazing grades or you're an athlete. This simply isn't true. There are plenty of ways to finding financial aid programs and getting a bigger financial aid package from your college. The trick is to start early and take time to do research on scholarships, grants and work-study programs that can save you some serious cash on your tuition.

1. List All the Funding Sources You Can Think Of

You should make a priority list of different financial aid types. For one, you can start with federal government aid, which provides grants like the Pell Grant and work-study programs to students with low incomes. Then, you can think of programs related to your college. What scholarships are available through your state? See a list of them here. Lastly, you can add private loans to your list. These should be used with caution, as there are also federal student loans which may be more beneficial.

2. Do Some Research About Your College

Your advisor should be able to help you find some financial aid information particular to your university. You should learn everything that you can about your college's financial aid process as well. Many colleges require you to fill out a FAFSA, even if your expected family contribution will be too high to qualify for Pell Grant. Still, colleges determine your financial aid package on your need, in addition to a variety of other factors. There may be other merit-based, athletic-based or department-based scholarships available through your school as well. You may need to fill out forms to get into these programs and you may also have to accept aid through a specific process after receiving your financial aid package letter.

3. Doing the Work

It's imperative that you fill out a FAFSA online even if you think that you won't get any aid. Plenty of students make the mistake of thinking that their parents make too much money, and therefore they won't qualify for any aid from the federal government. You never know what you qualify for until you fill out this application. Furthermore, if you're 24 or older, and you are earning your first degree, you can probably qualify for a Pell Grant. In addition, many colleges offer private awards to bring more students in if they are rejected for federal aid. That's one reason why colleges require that students fill out a FAFSA.

4. Taking Advantage of Discounts and Credits

There are other ways of cutting costs on tuition. For example, some colleges will take 10 percent off the tuition if you pay early. Other colleges will offer payment plans so that you can pay over a period of time. You may also want to consider taking a test such as College Level Examination Program to get out of college credits. You can earn up to a year of college this way and the test fees are much less than tuition. You may also be able to take online classes while still in high school that are free and allow you to shave off more money from your total college costs.

5. Apply for Whatever You Can

There are thousands of scholarships, but it's even easier to find information on how to apply and what to do to get these wards. Even better, most of them aren't based on any kind of achievements or merit. You should apply for as many scholarships as possible and put your email into scholarship notification lists so that you know when new scholarships become available. You don't know what you qualify for or what you can win unless you try. You can also create a calendar and mark deadlines for upcoming scholarships so you can keep up with each of your potential awards.