College education is expensive these days, and now many experts and media personalities are wondering if it’s a good idea to saddle students with large debts upon graduation. There are even some people who actually question the validity of going to college in the first place, and whether the advantages of a college degree are worth the costs of education. But employers today still understandably prefer to hire college graduates, and this means that if you want to become employable, you need a college degree. If you don’t have the money ready for tuition, books, and other living expenses, then you’ll need financial aid.
Here are some ways to make sure you get as much financial aid as you can:
1. Check out every source of financial aid you can find. Your first option should be the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA). Fill out the form even if you don’t really think you qualify, because some private grants are only available if you are rejected for federal aid. If you have been accepted at a particular college, look up that school’s website and find out about their procedures for filing an appeal. If you can’t find these instructions, then call them up. If you are currently working, ask if your company can help out financially. Take advantage of college discounts as well.
2. File your applications as early as you can. Many types of aid are available only on a first come first served basis. This also means that you have to be absolutely aware of deadlines. Being a day late is still late, and being late gives financial aid officers an excellent way of cutting down the number of applications they have to process.
3. Make sure you don’t include unnecessary financial information that makes you look undeserving of financial aid. While it’s never a good idea to lie on these applications—you can be fined, or worse—you don’t have to divulge info about your family’s assets when it’s not really called for. For example, the FAFSA only requires you to divulge non-retirement assets. But if you share details about your retirement assets, you can hurt your chances of getting aid. You also don’t have to include details of your family business on the FAFSA if you don’t employ at least a hundred full time employees.
4. Provide accurate numbers regarding your expenses and bills, with the documentation to back them up. You can’t just say you need to pay a lot of expensive medical expenses. You have to show the actual medical bills. So have your tax forms and W-2s ready and included in your applications.
5. Parents of students should also be straightforward regarding personal details. If the parents are separated or divorced, then this should be noted. Sometimes children of separated parents are deemed more in need of financial aid. Parents should also state that they only finished high school if they didn’t graduate from college, as “first generation” college students are looked upon favorably.
In the end, you may not be able to get all the financial aid you need. But just make sure that you avail of loans as well as gifts from family members. College is a crucial step to employability and your future hinges on your ability to make sure you have the money you need to graduate.