College Financial Aid Advice: Must-Know Tips

There are a lot of factors that go into getting yourself ready for college – Everything from deciding on which school to attend to choosing a college major. The whole process can be overwhelming and stressful if you aren’t prepared!

Then there’s the whole “financing your college education” thing that is staring you in the face.

Ugh… those dreaded tuition rates, book fees, and housing expenses seem to pose an even bigger problem than everything else on your plate.

That’s why you should be gathering as much college financial aid advice as you can!

College Financial Aid Advice: Must-Know Tips for Students

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With all the resources available both online and at school campuses, there’s no reason to not look into your options and see what funds might be available to help you offset some of your college expenses. As a student who graduated with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, I’ve been down the student loan road and let me tell you… it’s not pretty. I’m sharing my college financial aid advice with you because I don’t want to see you drowning in debt by the time you graduate. If anything, I hope this information gives you a good starting point for researching the various types of aid available and how best to use it!

After you’re done here, make sure you stop by these other great posts for more college financial aid advice:

Compare School Costs and Financial Aid Packages

Before you even decide on your final school, you should be looking at how much it’s going to cost to attend that college. All of this information should be posted online but don’t be afraid to call the school to get more specific numbers if you need to. Here are the costs and fees you’ll want to add up:

  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Meal Plans
  • Lab Fees
  • Books (Read How to Save Money on Textbooks: 6 Sites You Need to Use)
  • Enrollment Deposit
  • Student Activity Fee (If separate from tuition)
  • Supplies (You will need to calculate this yourself, but do some research to find out how much you may need to spend each semester)
  • Sporting Events (Some schools include this in tuition while others do not)
  • Health Insurance
  • Parking Permit
  • PO Box Rental
  • Student Government Fee (Once again, some schools have this as a separate fee while others do not)
  • Student Activity Fees

Quite an overwhelming list, huh?

This is why it’s SO important to know what the overall costs are before you make your final decision. Having a rough estimate of the amount you’ll be expected to pay each year will give you more awareness of how good your financial aid package really is.

College Financial Advice: Must-Know Tips

Evaluating the Financial Aid Package

Ok, so now that you’ve got an estimate of how much each school is going to cost, it’s time to figure out what grants, scholarships, and other aid you may be eligible for.

Since every student has a different situation and is going to receive a different EFC (estimated family contribution) on their FAFSA, I want to direct you to Financial Aid for College: What You Need to Know so that you can get a better understanding of what each type of aid is and who is and isn’t eligible for each.

Already know the basics?

Great! It’s time to talk strategy then.

Take a look at how much money each school is willing to offer you in grants and scholarships. Both of these do not have to be paid back – a definite plus for keeping your debt down. If you demonstrated financial need on the FAFSA, then you should qualify for the Pell Grant.

Some states also have academic competitiveness grants for students who demonstrate financial need but also have a strong high school GPA.

The grants are the easy part for most students… it’s the scholarships that most tend to overlook or dismiss.

College Financial Aid Advice: Important Info on Scholarships

I don’t know what it is, but students tend to stop looking for scholarships once they receive their financial aid award letter from their school. It’s almost like seeing the numbers on paper makes it the end-all-be-all in getting money for your education.

I’m here to tell you that you NEED to keep searching for scholarships and pursuing them – even well into your senior year.

Here are some things to keep in mind about scholarships:

  1. Just because your school didn’t offer you a scholarship your first year doesn’t mean that you can’t get one from them during your sophomore year. Contact your financial aid office and find out what scholarships they offer and what the requirements are for each one.
  2. There are TONS of scholarship sites out there that you can browse through (FastWeb and are two of the most popular)
  3. Scholarships are not limited to just popular search engine sites or schools – check organizations in the area, your parents’ employers, and any clubs you may be a part of
  4. There are lists of unique and strange scholarships that you can find online (do a search for ‘weird scholarships’ or ‘unusual scholarships’ to find them)
  5. Academic scholarships often have a minimum GPA attached to them, so make sure you keep your grades up and stay focused in class! These posts can help with that: My Secrets for Getting A’s in College and 10 Study Tips for College Students.

College Financial Aid Advice: Must-Know Tips

Taking Out Loans

My ideal college financial aid advice involves never suggesting student loans as an option. Unfortunately, I know that loans are a reality for most students these days (myself included), so I’m going to throw out some things for you to think about instead.

Evaluating the Loan

First of all, NEVER think that you have to accept the full loan amount that was offered to you.

Remember that total amount of costs you came up with earlier? Look at it.

You’ll probably notice that you were offered more money than you really need to cover all of your expenses. It’s quite enticing since you’re going to be on your own for the first time and you may want to have some extra money to use in case you want to grab a bite to eat with friends, go to a concert, buy some cute school supplies that cost to much, or something else.

As attractive as this extra money may seem, it’s important that you don’t borrow more than you need.

I know you probably hear that all the time, but I can’t even begin to say how true it is. When you take out the full amount, you are putting yourself at the mercy of interest rates and a rising student loan debt total when you graduate.

Moral of the story: Know your numbers and only take what you need.

Using Your Money Wisely: College Financial Aid Advice You MUST Not Miss!

So let’s say you’ve gotten your award letters, you’ve evaluated the numbers, and now you’ve decided on what school to attend.

Now it’s time to figure out how you might even be able to get your college costs a little lower.

Here are some of the best ways to save money while in college:

  • Don’t sign up for the unlimited meal plan
  • When you buy college items, shop online through a cash back site (Ebates is my favorite)
  • Use sites like to save money on textbooks
  • Live in a cheaper residence hall with a roommate
  • Get an on-campus or part-time job to offset some of the costs
  • Keep a budget (I’ve got a free printable for you –> College Budget Template)

Once you’ve done all of those things, you’ll probably notice that you have some financial aid money leftover because you were able to save money along the way. This is exactly what you want to happen because now…

This is the BEST Part!

You can take that extra money and either use it toward future expenses so that you can even take out LESS debt than before, apply it to the loan balance that is already accumulating, or put it in a savings account (preferably with a decent interest rate) so that you can make money on top of the money!

Remember, you should still be applying for scholarships throughout all of this.

I’ve seen some students take out loans their freshman year but by the time they reached their sophomore or junior year, they didn’t have to anymore because they found a way to cut their college expenses and get financial aid elsewhere.

College Financial Aid Advice: Must-Know Tips

Don’t Think You Fit In Above? Well, You Fit Right Here!

There are always students who read my posts and think, “Well, it’s great info, but I don’t feel like this really applies to me.”

I’m hearing you loud and clear…

That’s why I’m taking a different approach to my college financial aid advice for you.

Instead of worrying about cutting expenses and chasing scholarships, I have a challenge for you instead… I want you to get out there and take control of your money situation.

How in the world do I do that?!?!

For starters, I know you’re smart and that you have a lot of skills. With that being said, I’m going to challenge you to jump into the freelance world so that you can start funding some of your own educational expenses.

I know it sounds crazy, but can you imagine how many skills you will have acquired by the time you graduate if you take on this challenge?

Here’s how you can get started:

  • Build your own website or blog (Get your own domain with HostGator and then hop over to StudioPress Themes to get your site looking awesome)
  • Sign up for Swagbucks (I made almost $50 last month with barely any effort)
  • Become an Etsy shop owner

This is definitely my most unconventional college financial aid advice, but it should be an option that students are presented with!

There’s More Where That Came From

I LOVE writing about college-related topics, so please make sure you check out these other posts for more info! You can also check me out on Pinterest so that you never miss an update! I have three personal boards completely dedicated to college that you can check out while you’re there.

Until next time my friends!

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