Guest Post: 5 Tips To Bag The Financial Aid You Need

This is a guest post from Carol Montrose, an MBA student at CSUN. Read more about her below the post.

When it comes time to head off to the ivory towers of your chosen university, you may find yourself stymied by a decided lack of funds.  Unfortunately for students, institutions of higher learning require up-front payment in order to register for classes, which means that if you don’t have the money in hand, you really can’t go to college.  And with the ongoing recession showing no signs of abating, this could spell disaster for the student that can’t qualify for a loan.  But don’t despair; you still have options for financial aid.  By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form you have the potential to receive not only government aid for schooling, but also funding from the institution of your choice.  There’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t apply, and here are a few tips to help you garner the funding you need to succeed.

Know your funds.

There are three ways that government gift horses could come to you: as scholarships, grants, or loans.  But not all are created equal.  In case you didn’t know, scholarships and grants are free whereas loans will have to be paid back once your tenure at university is over (whether you graduate or walk away empty-handed).  So while you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, you might want to check the chompers on any loan offers to see if they’ll come back to bite you in the long run.

Dot i’s, cross t’s.

Screwing up on your form could be disastrous in terms of getting the money you need for school.  So make sure to check and double check your facts for accuracy before sending in the form.  Additionally, do not make the mistake of thinking that you’re the only person who has tried to fudge on a FAFSA form.  These documents are thoroughly checked so you can be sure that the government will not be pleased to discover you’re trying to hoodwink them out of undeserved funds.  In fact, it’s a federal offense that could come with fines and jail time (and will certainly result in expulsion from school).

Give a little whistle.

Staying silent will get you nowhere when it comes to securing financial aid, so if the numbers aren’t telling the whole story, make the effort to call and explain.  Was one (or were both) of your parents laid off since the last tax year, effectively limiting their expected contribution?  Call or write a letter to the FAFSA office to apprise them of your situation.  They can’t be expected to help if they don’t know, and in this particular case you can ask for a reassessment to be done.  If your parents suffer other financial difficulties or burdens (medical bills, elderly dependents, etc.) that may not be noted on the form, there is nothing to be lost by seeking a sympathetic ear, except maybe a few minutes of your time, and you could end up getting the help you need.

File as an independent student.

There are several situations that may qualify you for independent student status (being over the age of 24, having your own dependents, serving time in the military, etc.) and it is in your best interest to see if you’re eligible to file for FAFSA this way.  Because independent student assessments are based on your tax documents rather than those of your parents, you stand to get a lot more aid if you are able to file independently. Read Thomas’ post about filing independently for more info.

File on time.

Here’s something that the college rankings won’t tell you: most schools do not appreciate slackers!  This means that a failure to file correct paperwork for financial aid won’t win you any help from the college you’re seeking to attend.  And since the 50 best colleges (and even the not-so-great ones) require you to file for FAFSA before you can become eligible for institutional aid, being punctual is of the utmost importance.

What financial aid tips do you have? Let us know!

Carol is a 2nd-year MBA student at California State University Northridge. In her spare time, she writes for The Best Colleges.

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