As college gets more expensive each year, students rely more frequently on financial aid to help offset the costs of higher education. However, many students are making simple mistakes that can cost them thousands of dollars in grants or scholarships each year. Here are five tips to help you get the most financial aid possible.
1. Fill out the FAFSA
One of the easiest ways to get financial aid for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While some students mistakenly believe that the FAFSA and CSS Profile are only for students with extreme financial need, this is false. All students, regardless of their economic background, should fill out the FAFSA. These applications not only take into account income level but also the number of children in a family and how many are enrolled in college simultaneously. Each year, more than $24 billion in state, federal, and institutional aid goes unclaimed because people don’t fill out the FAFSA. While the FAFSA can be a bit tedious, it’s well worth the few hours it takes to complete.
2. Submit the FAFSA now
The FAFSA application opens on October 1 each year, and it’s beneficial for you to fill it out as soon as it opens. Many organizations that give out larger financial packages will have early deadlines, often before the new year. Many of these organizations operate on a first come, first served system, and you give yourself the best chance to earn more financial aid by applying early. You can find a full list of FAFSA deadlines on the US Department of Education's website.
3. Complete the right form
Unfortunately, some people have created look-alike websites to trick people into putting in their financial data or credit card information. Before filling out the FAFSA, check to ensure you are on studentaid.gov, which is the only official FAFSA website. Also make sure you’re filing for the correct year. For example, if you’re planning on enrolling in college for the 2023–2024 academic year, make sure you’re selecting the form for that year. Filling out the right form ensures you get all the financial aid you’re entitled to for that school year.
4. Add all your schools
One of the biggest mistakes students make is not adding all their schools to the FAFSA form. Initially, you can only add 10, but after you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), you can send your FAFSA information to all the schools on your list. Even if you replace one school’s code with another one, it will never delete your financial information from that university's system.
5. Finish it
The FAFSA takes time to do, but it’s well worth the struggle. In fact, a study by the National College Access Network (NCAN) found that seniors who finish the FAFSA are 63% more likely to enroll in a university than students who don’t complete the form. Spend a few days completing the FAFSA! While it can be a complicated process, it can make school more affordable and is one of the necessary steps you should take when preparing for college.
The FAFSA can be majorly helpful in your ability to pay for college, but if you do it carefully, you can maximize your aid package to get the most possible help. No one wants to spend their four years of college stressing about their financial situation. So put yourself in a good spot by using these tips to complete the financial aid process in the most beneficial way.
Another way to reduce the cost of college is with scholarships. Find free money now with our Scholarship Search tool!