Money Matters: Thinking About Financial Aid

Katie Creel / Colleges of Distinction »

Many families find that applying for financial aid is just as confusing as applying to colleges. Along with the huge number of required forms, they must contend with a new language of terms and abbreviations. But there is light at the end of the tunnel!  Here are some tips to get you going and help you understand the FAFSA.

Explore all of your options early and discuss them with each other.

The old adage “the early bird catches the worm” is very true when it comes to financial aid. By taking an early look and discovering all possibilities, it can offset a lot of extra work later on and also give the family a head start on reducing the cost.

Check with your school to see what forms are required for each of your schools.
All colleges and universities require the FAFSA. Some require the CSS Profile. Others may have their own institutional forms.

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Talk to each other about realistic expectations.
Discussing financial matters can be uncomfortable. But the more that your child understands the family’s financial possibilities, the more realistic attitude he or she will take to the college process.

Investigate every scholarship opportunity.
Leave no stone unturned! Look everywhere! From guidebooks and websites, the more you search for scholarships, the more possibilities that you uncover. You can begin by asking family members if they belong to any organizations (or their place of employment) that sponsor scholarships for which your child might be eligible. Talk to your counselor—and of course, check with the school to see if there are any special applications necessary for scholarships. (Music scholarships, for example, may require an audition, while others may require interviews, essays, and so forth.)

Establish a good working relationship with the Financial Aid office.
As with the admissions office, you should consider the financial aid office a valuable source of information. By instituting a rapport with your financial aid counselor, your family will have another outlet in which to discuss any special circumstances or ask basic questions.

If you have any special circumstances, be sure to communicate them effectively.
Remember: your initial financial aid package is not always the last word. The FAFSA and other forms do not always take into account special circumstances, such as a change in income or a medical emergency that is not reflected in any tax information. Talk to the schools’ financial aid office and see if your specific situation can be taken into consideration.

Above all, remember that if you take the time to understand the financial aid process, it will become an easier task than you might have initially imagined. Explore every option, talk to everyone, and make sure to breathe!

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