A Few Pointers from Financial Aid Professionals
Know the total sticker price. Make sure you are comparing apples-to-apples when looking at the cost of attendance between colleges. Many colleges have numerous required fees, in addition to tuition. Make sure to add these total fees to the tuition when comparing schools.
Save for books. Financial aid can be delayed at the beginning of a semester due to the verification of financial aid information review or other technical reasons. Not having to worry about external funding for books at the beginning of a semester is a big boost to kick start the academic year. Saving for books also is a great way to borrow less—meaning you'll have less to pay back later.
Watch your credit. Educational loans are available to assist with college enrollment. Parents should review credit history at one of the major credit bureaus and address any mistakes or issues with credit in the years leading up to sending your student off to college. Likewise, students should keep their credit clean. Most student and parent educational loans do not require payment while a student is enrolled in college at least half-time.
Don’t miss a deadline. It seems like common sense, but the number of families missing a known deadline is astounding. Each year some students miss thousands of dollars in grants and scholarships due to missing a deadline. It cannot be stressed enough, apply early and apply on time. Make sure to review financial aid applications for accuracy and completeness. Early in the process, work with your college to answer any questions or concerns about the application process.
Check email. Most colleges communicate with students via email. As a parent, develop a regular check-in with your student regarding any emails, posted communication on the students’ electronic web connection to their college (generally the site where they applied for admission), and first-class mail, and respond quickly to any request from the college.
Start the process early. Start the college admission process early, beginning with the admission application. Completing the admission application as early as possible will maximize your receipt of information about financial aid opportunities. Colleges will have open houses, receptions, and even online seminars on financial aid. Applying early for admission will give you more time to plan for funding higher education.
Visit the financial aid office. Stop in the financial aid office or meet financial aid professionals during college open houses to discuss your concerns and seek information and support for the financial aid application process. They are eager to help you!
Attend financial aid nights and college financial aid events. Many high schools offer sessions on financial aid which can be incredibly valuable.
Work with high school counselors. Staff in school counselor offices know of local scholarships and awards that may be available for students. Students are encouraged to develop a good working relationship with their guidance counselor and pay attention to announcements and mailings regarding school and community funding sources.
Save early. Similar to retirement savings, it is never too early to begin saving for education. If you did not start early, starting as soon as possible will only help.
Financial aid may pay for educational expenses other than tuition. Financial aid may cover expenses such as books, on- or off-campus room and board, and other education expenses.