The confusion and unknowingness surrounding financial aid makes it less likely for students to apply for these resources. But many students and families have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, so applying for financial aid is more important than ever. It’s also important for prospective college students and their parents or guardians to communicate about how to tackle college costs to make it more affordable. The good news is you don't need a 4.0 GPA or to be insanely rich to go to your dream college without the financial burden hanging over you. Here are some crucial ways to work with your parents through the financial aid process to make everyone’s lives easier.
Filling out the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is arguably one of the best financial aid services there is. However, about one-third of undergraduate students do not fill out the FAFSA each year because they’re not aware of it or they think they won’t qualify for aid. But most people do qualify for some type of aid, regardless of their parents’ income. The FAFSA starts accepting applications on October 1 and closes June 30 every year, but the sooner you apply, the more financial aid you could qualify for. Filling out this free form will allow the government to determine the federal financial aid you may qualify for based on income and need. This includes Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants—aka free money!
With the help of your parents, filling out the FAFSA is easy. All you need is some of your parents’ basic information and their tax information from two years prior. You should also list all of the colleges you plan on applying to so they’ll have access to your info and be able to send their financial aid offer to you if you’re accepted. After you file your FAFSA, all you have to do is wait a couple of weeks to see what federal aid you qualify for. If the process is too complicated for you and your parents, many high schools hold FAFSA workshops that will walk you through how to fill it out.
Related: The Best FAFSA Advice and Resources
Looking for scholarships
Scholarships are a huge piece of the college affordability puzzle. Your high school and the college you plan to attend will have scholarships that you should apply for. These will be specific to your high school, location, or college of choice, which means there will be less competition. Talk to your counselor and the college’s financial aid department; they’ll both be more than happy to answer your questions and let you know about different options and opportunities. Don’t ask your parents to help with this step: contacting colleges yourself will demonstrate your independence and boost your confidence.
Your parents can (and should) help with this next step, though: there are most likely a lot of scholarships in your local community. Ask your parents to check with their workplaces, alumni organizations, and social or service groups to see if they offer scholarship opportunities for high school and college–aged children. Your parents could unlock a new door to rare and specific scholarships with small applicant pools. You should ask other family members and friends as well—the more people who help you look for scholarships, the better.
Searching the web is another easy way to find scholarships. Applying to specific and low-interest scholarships will give you a higher chance of winning. Scholarship criteria based on unique traits like your hobbies, intended major, race, gender, and other traits will minimize how many people can apply, which means there’s a better chance for you to win. There’s a variety of websites to choose from, like CollegeXpress, Bold.org, and Unigo.com. These sites will help break down which scholarships you qualify for and offer recommendations—and you’ll want to apply for every scholarship you’re eligible for!
Planning out your college costs
Trying to figure out how to pay for college can be very stressful, but if you sit down with your parents to break down the costs, it’ll seem less overwhelming. Make a list of how much money you’ve saved, how much your parents are willing to contribute, and how much it will cost to attend your college of choice per year. This is crucial to discuss early on in your college search and application process, because knowing exactly how much money and aid you’ll need will help determine your next steps of how to get it.
Related: How to Figure Out Your College Costs
Figuring out how to pay for college can be stressful, but hopefully this advice and all the ways you can reduce the cost with grants and scholarships can give you some peace of mind. Teaming up with your parents and taking advantage of outside resources will be beneficial in the long run. College can become more affordable if you start communicating and planning early to break down how much it will cost vs. how much your family can help.
We know a great place to start looking for scholarships: browse over $7 billion (yes, billion!) worth of opportunities using the CollegeXpress Scholarship Search tool!