Here you go, folks: six smart strategies for bringing down your college costs and getting more financial aid. It all adds up to a more affordable college education for you.
When you’re ready to beyond these quick tips, make sure you check out this ultimate guide to getting financial aid for college, as well as a step-by-step stroll (we swear) through filing the FAFSA. Finally, round it all out with a nice scholarship search.
- File financial aid applications ASAP so you can get the most money possible. Certain federal, state, and institutional monies are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you’re at the front of the line by filing forms the day they become available. For example, you can file the FAFSA as early as October 1 the year before you intend to enroll in college. And that’s the day you want to submit the form if at all possible. That also likely means you'll need to prepare in advance by learning about processes, gathering papers, and more, as well as actually filling out the forms.
- Lower student assets. While keeping assets in a student’s name can be a tax benefit for parents, student assets figure in much more heavily to the Expected Family Contribution (aka EFC, as determined using results of the FAFSA). Moving student assets to parent accounts will increase your eligibility for aid. Likewise, if any extended family members are planning on giving you money for college, those gifts should be delayed until after applying for financial aid if possible.
- Pay down consumer debt. Consumer debt isn’t figured in when calculating an EFC; only cash and assets are. But parents (and students, if relevant) should still pay down debt to decrease the amount of cash they have overall and improve their aid eligibility. After all, you need to pay the debt eventually—why not do it now?
- Time large purchases if you can. If your family is already considering making a big purchase in the near future, like a car, appliance, or renovation, it may be wise to do it before filing for financial aid to reduce cash assets.
- Save early. Okay, we know we just said you should try to reduce your cash assets, and that’s a good strategy for the short-term/time leading up to you filing for financial aid and enrolling in college. And, yes, more money in savings this will affect your EFC. But as a long-term strategy, the more money you save, the more options you’ll have for college payments, and the better off you’ll be.
- Look into tuition payment options through your college or university. Because few people have the money to pay tuition bills in full up front, many schools will let you spread costs out over a 12-month period. This can help you avoid loans (and loan interest). Just keep in mind that a payment plan will not reduce the amount you owe; in fact, there may be a processing fee. Of course, it all depends on your unique situation, but a payment plan is often a better alternative than getting an interest-accruing loan. It may also be preferable to keep your money in an interest-bearing savings account rather than paying it all at once.
Got any questions—or genius tips we forgot? How are you making (or planning to make) your college education more affordable? Please leave a comment and let us know!
P.S. If you liked these tips, can you do us a favor and share them? More students and their families need to know these strategies exist!