2018 is coming to a close. You’ve finished your application to college/ grad school (or you’re almost there!). Now what? Well, remember that getting in is only half the battle! Attending and paying for college/ grad school is the other half. In fact, the cost of college has increased by 13% in the past 5 years alone! So you need to prepare yourself for that fight, and you NEED to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA for short*. Below we’ve prepared 5 Fast Facts on the FAFSA (try saying that five times fast) to help you make sure you get the financial aid you need for your higher education!
*Note: the FAFSA is generally for U.S. citizens but there are exceptions for eligible non-citizens.
1) Apply ASAP!
The application opened October 1, and is technically due June 30, 2019*. But you NEED to finish it as soon as possible! Financial aid at schools in many states is first-come, first-serve, so you need to turn in your FAFSA sooner to have more chances at aid. Every day that you delay could be funds that you’re losing!
*Note: Colleges often have individual FAFSA deadlines that are much sooner than the June 30 federal deadline, so be sure to look up the deadlines for your colleges.
2) Use the FAFSA 4Caster Tool
This free online tool provided by Federal Student Aid allows you to calculate how much aid you’ll get even before you fill out the FAFSA! The best use of this tool is to find new ways to maximize your aid package. Use the results to evaluate a few funding scenarios, such as whether or not you receive outside scholarships, or different ways to set up your bank account (see below). By planning and evaluating a few future scenarios, you can figure out how you want to fill out the FAFSA before officially applying for aid with final numbers.
3) Be strategic about your bank account
According to financial aid experts and the publishers at Cappex.com, you can be strategic about the numbers you provide on the FAFSA. You should avoid artificial increases in income during the years that FAFSA requires you to input. That means don’t realize capital gains (like selling a property) or take distributions from retirement plans (for those grad school bound applicants), in order to keep your expected contribution contained to any household salary. Including one-time gains can distort your income and make it seem like you have more money to pay for tuition. Following this advice makes the government less likely to overestimate your expected contribution!
4) Find the schools with the best aid policies
Consider applying to schools with a generous financial aid policy. Do the research on average aid packages from the schools you’re interested in – most school websites offer statistics. Some schools only require a FAFSA to receive aid, while others may want more materials, and some public colleges may have very little money available in the first place for funding student tuition. Plan ahead to target those colleges with a guarantee of at least some aid. As your offers start rolling in (especially if you’ve used Write Track Admissions to craft your applications!), you can compare aid packages to see which school is most affordable. Maybe you’ll even have an opportunity for a free college education!
5) Be prepared to appeal for more aid
Once you submit the FAFSA and receive aid packages from colleges, if you’re not satisfied with the aid received, don’t give up yet! If you have special circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college, appeal to the college financial aid office for a professional judgment review. Negotiating for more financial aid can feel uncomfortable, but there are ways you can approach the process to make it as smooth as possible. Check out the advice at Student Loan Hero for more info and tips on paying for college.
BONUS TIP: Consider institutional aid and scholarships
On top of the FAFSA, some colleges require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, which is administered by College Board. Almost 400 colleges use it to award non-federal student aid, so you definitely need to fill this out too! Plus, you can apply for scholarships from local and national organizations. To get started, check out the nine best scholarship search tools around the web. By covering all your bases, you’ll get the largest amount of financial aid for college possible. Whatever your path, education debt is real and should not be underestimated. Feel free to contact Write Track to help guide you in the financial aid quest and the scholarship process, but do it quick to avoid being saddled with debt for decades to come!
~ Abhijith Ravinutala
Write Track Director of Professional Services & Graduate Admissions Expert