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How Do I Get Financial Aid?
1. Thou shalt apply for financial aid, even if you don’t think you’ll be eligible
Most students qualify for some type of financial aid. Even if you can only get approved for a Stafford loan, the interest rate will probably be less than private loans. Make sure to apply early as well; it increases your chances of getting a bigger slice of the financial aid pie. The FAFSA form is released during the first week of January every year. To apply, visit https://fafsa.ed.gov/.
2. Thou shalt research scholarships
Generally, you don’t have to repay scholarships. Do a little research and find a few to apply for. Websites like CollegeBoard.org, Scholarships.com, and ScholarshipLibrary.com are great starting points. Don’t forget to apply for scholarships at your school of choice as well!
3. Thou shalt use student loans as a last resort
While it’s easier to get approved for a loan over a scholarship or grant, you do have to pay them back (with interest!). It’s worth the extra effort to exhaust all non-repayment options first.
4. Thou shalt take out federal loans over private loans
If you absolutely have to take out a loan, exhaust all federal loan options before taking out private ones. Not only do federal loans usually have a better interest rate than private loans, but they’re also more flexible when it comes to repaying.
5. Thou shalt try to negotiate
Send your FAFSA to several colleges you’ve been considering. Colleges can see that you’re sending it to other schools, so they may be motivated to offer more grant or scholarship money to sway you. You can also appeal your financial aid award letter from the school and ask for more. If you receive better offers from other colleges, consider mentioning these as well. It may not always work, but it’s worth a try.
6. Thou shalt scrutinize each college’s financial aid package
Many colleges will show you how much you have to pay out of pocket by subtracting the financial aid package from tuition. However, many times these financial aid packages include loans. Compare multiple colleges to see which one will give you the most non-repayment aid.
7. Thou shalt consider a school’s tuition price and average financial aid package size
One great way to reduce the cost of an education is to use the CollegeBoard.org’s College Search tool to compare schools’ costs and the average size of the financial aid packages they offer. Pick a school that has a high percentage financial need met.
8. Thou shalt consider participating in the federal work-study program
If you have the option of participating in the federal work-study program, it’s worth looking into. The federal government does not count work-study job earnings as income (which can boost your chances for grants!), and it helps fund your education. Some of these jobs can even be related to your major, giving you extra experience before you enter the workforce.
9. Thou shalt update the school if your financial circumstances change
Life happens. If your family has experienced a significant change in financial well-being since you submitted your application, let your school know so they can reevaluate your financial aid package. Common financial changes that can impact financial aid include deaths and births in the family, divorce, large medical bills and the loss of a job.
10. Thou shalt have multiple family members attend college at once
It may sound odd, but having multiple family members attend college at the same time can actually save money in the long run because both of you will qualify for more grants. It doesn’t have to be two siblings attending school at the same time either; a parent can go back to school and increase your financial aid package as well.