How to Apply for Financial Aid in College – An Ultimate Guide with Pro Tips

Getting an education is one of the great achievements of life and, like many valuable things, it’s not cheap. Before we choose our major and wonder about our dorm roommate’s strange habits, most of us must think about how we (or our parents) will pay for college, and most of us will need some kind of financial assistance.

Financial assistance can be in the form of student loans, grants or scholarships. Some financial assistance requires you to repay it after you finish college, while other sorts don’t need to be paid back. Grants or scholarships may be based on financial needs, good grades or just about anything else. The bottom line is that there are many opportunities around and if you find what is right for you, you can get a good education.

This is the process:

1.) Begin early

All types of financial assistance have deadlines, and you will be frustrated with yourself if you have to delay your education because you did not file in time. The deadline for the electronic submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA), the start of financial assistance, is usually 30th June for the academic year beginning in the fall, but deadlines for state financial assistance are usually in spring. Consult your counseling counselor about important deadlines if you are a high school senior and check with your school’s financial aid office if you are already in college.

2.) Apply for loads of aid of all kinds

You can fill in a FAFSA for federally funded help, but there are many other sources of money for college. There are scholarships based on minority status, disability, grade-point average, extra-curricular participation or the college major that you plan to follow. You probably will not receive each scholarship you apply to, so apply for as much as you can find for which you qualify. Thousands of dollars in grants and scholarship money are claimed every year, and claiming that money for yourself can help you reduce your student loan debt. Do not forget to ask the financial assistance office on institutional aid. Institutional aid is a scholarship grant awarded by a university to its students, and it is a funding opportunity that many students miss during their applications. Your high school and university will give you free information, and you can also get free information online.

Although there are legitimate companies charging fees to help you seek financial assistance, beware of scammers who want you to give their bank account number or pay money to be a “finalist” for a scholarship.

3.) Keep files on each application

Once you have found a lot of financial aid and applied for it, you must keep everything straight. Every source of financial aid has its own rules, requirements and deadlines, and you can lose an award if you do not jump through the right hoops. Maintain a separate file (the old-fashioned paper type) for each financial support package for which you apply, and keep a cover page in each file containing the important deadlines. Any time you submit an application online, print a copy of the submission sheet, which must provide you with a confirmation number and the exact time and date of submission.

4.) Stay up to date with e-mails

Print hard copies of your application and any email correspondence for your file so that it will be easy to keep up with your progress with every financial resource.

5.) File electronically

The hard copy FAFSA is a relic of bygone eras. Most sources of financial assistance allow you to file online, and provide user-friendly web pages to make sure you fill in everything. Electronic submission is also faster, and you do not have to worry about losing your paperwork in the mail. Make sure you keep a record of your applications and complete or save your submission before leaving your browser. Keep in mind that most deadlines for completed submissions are not for applications in progress.

Many online financial assistance applications allow you to create a profile and save your submissions so that you can complete it later. Make sure you write down any username and password combinations so that you do not experience any problems signing in.

6.) Follow the instructions

Please read all the instructions carefully when applying for financial assistance. Do not skim through, no matter how tempting. Pay attention, and follow the instructions for the letter. If you do not understand, ask your counselor or financial advisor – it is better to save your application and return later, instead of submitting it incorrectly and possibly losing help. Once you have completed an application for financial assistance, double check before you press the “Submit” button. And, above all, make sure you understand what you’re subscribing to. You have to pay your student loans one day, regardless of whether you get that dream job or not.

7.) Maintain an excellent past record

Merit-based scholarships are one of the few types of financial assistance which are not based on demonstrated financial needs. Merit scholarships are awarded to students based on strong academic abilities, leadership skills, artistic or musical ability and athletic abilities, including specialized activities such as cheerleading.

Compared to need-based financial assistance, merit scholarships are few and far between. Many schools are no longer offering merit-based assistance. Nevertheless, students must apply for any scholarship that seems to fit well. There are four important things to know about merit scholarships:

You need to know which schools offer merit scholarships – not everyone does. You can find out by contacting the financial assistance office of the schools you are interested in.

You must know how and when to apply for each scholarship. Deadlines are critical. Do not miss the money because your application was late. The school’s financial help website will provide you with all the information you need to apply on time.

Parents and students should keep merit scholarships in perspective. Whatever you may hear, merit scholarships are not a reason for attending a particular school. A merit scholarship can serve to underline the reasons for choosing a particular school, but remember, academic and social interests and goals must govern this decision.

Some tips:

– Start saving for college now. This is good advice for parents and students because the more you save, the less you will borrow. It’s not the college’s sticker price that matters. All that really matters is the net cost of education. In most cases, there is a difference between the family’s out-of-pocket expenses and the college’s sticker price.

– Use time to its full advantage. For most families, university is the second largest expense ever. Most families pay for their homes over 30 years – consider paying for college for six to eight years or more. Since your child creates the list of schools for which he or she will apply, do not reject a school just because it is expensive. A lot of help is available, and you may be surprised at how much you or your child receives.

– Parents, get your child to pay for college early. By saving in high school and working through college, students can make a significant contribution to supporting their educational costs. As a family, create a strategy that fits your specific circumstances. Remember – there is no best way to pay for college.

– Keep educational costs in perspective. College fees can be high, but recent studies indicate that those who earn a bachelor’s degree on average will have a living income of approximately 60 percent higher than those who stop at a high school diploma. The return on your investment can be extraordinary.

Paying for college does not have to worry about your sleepless nights. Remember, a solid plan and the subsequent work through can make the difference!