Let’s face it – to be competitive in a large number of career fields, you need to have a college degree of some sort. Although getting the extra education and acquiring new skills are great things, a lot of students struggle with the overall costs.
That’s where these financial aid tips come into play.
You’ve probably heard stories about students going to college for free or landing a huge scholarship that allowed them to go to a private school instead of a state one. These stories are great to hear, but the reality is that a lot of students end up being unable to relate.
As a former student who has been down the college path both for undergraduate and graduate degrees, I wanted to put my own financial aid tips out there so that students could get a realistic perspective and approach for how to handle the process.
Complete the FAFSA On-Time
When a school tells you that they give priority to students who complete their FAFSA before a certain date, they really mean it. I think that a lot of people delay the process because it can be time-consuming, especially if you haven’t filed your taxes yet or you have tons of paperwork together (think tax information from your parents, etc.).
You could probably call all the colleges in the country and I guarantee that almost all of the people you would talk to would ask if you have completed your FAFSA yet. Do yourself a favor and fill out the form as soon as possible, ideally before March 1st. Doing this one step will help set the stage for the rest of the financial aid tips below.
Financial Aid Tips Regarding the FAFSA:
- Complete no later than March 1st
- Have your parent’s tax returns and documents on-hand
- Have your personal tax returns and documents on-hand
- Know which school’s you will need to look up codes for (or know the codes)
- Know you and your parent’s personal identifying information (DOB, SSN, etc.)
- Have your PIN set up
Understand All of Your School’s Financial Aid Forms
One out of every three college students will be chosen for verification, meaning that you’ll be required to submit a whole bunch of extra paperwork in addition to the FAFSA that you completed.
You can get a head start on gathering these documents by going to your school’s financial aid website and looking through all the various forms that are available. They should tell you who needs to fill out which form and what information needs to be included. If you have questions or can’t find the forms, contact someone at the school and ask them which forms might be required if you get chosen for verification, need to prove residency, or have another life circumstance happen.
I listed this in my financial aid tips for college students because it can save you a lot of time and stress later on. The worst thing that could happen is that you don’t have to turn in any additional paperwork and you get your awards without extra effort.
Reduce Your Awarded Loan Amounts
A lot of students don’t realize that just because the school offered you “x” amount of dollars in loans doesn’t mean you have to take that full amount. Take the time to calculate out how much you really need for tuition, fees, housing, meals, and extra expenses. Once you’ve done that, add up how much financial aid you’ve received. If you have some extra leftover, think about reducing the amount of the loans you received.
This is one of those financial aid tips that will potentially save you lots of money in the long run because you will have less interest to deal with. Trust me… that stuff adds up quick!
If you have specific questions, make sure you speak to a financial aid officer at your school.
If You Have Extra Financial Aid, Use It to Pay Down Student Loans
The financial aid tips for actually spending your money can vary greatly, but I wanted to present at least a few options that you have. One of the biggest things I’ve learned since leaving college is that student loans are not fun to deal with, meaning you should get rid of them as soon as possible.
A lot of college students take their full financial aid packages during the first semester of two because they want to make sure all of their expenses are covered. After this initial period, many find that they actually can cut back on dining expenses, save money on textbooks, and reduce costs other ways, so that leaves them with a little extra money in their student account.
One of the biggest financial aid tips I can give to students who have this opportunity is to pay off student loans as quickly as possible. I know it can be tempting to use the extra money to buy some new clothes, a new laptop, or buy some cute school supplies at the bookstore, but try your hardest to resist! Get those loans out of the way so that you can enjoy a debt-free life earlier on.
Ways to Cut Expenses so That Your Loans Don’t Get Out of Control
- Buy used textbooks or rent them
- Choose the cheapest dining plan that fits your eating habits
- Don’t feel like you have to go with the most expensive dorm room or housing option
Financial Aid Tips for Everyone: Find and Apply for Scholarships at Any Time!
You don’t have to be a new freshman in college to be eligible for scholarships. There are tons of awards available for students and potential students from all walks of life! Take the time to do some searches on the internet, through a scholarship board, or in your community to see what’s out there. The free money is waiting for you!
The ultimate goal of these financial aid tips is to help you think practically while also reducing some of the stress that you might experience from all the money talk that goes on in college. What are some things that you can think of that might help college students who are going through this process right now?
Want more info? Check out these posts:
- Financial Advice for College Students: Must-Know Tips
- College Financial Aid: 10 Free Websites You Need to Use