Some aspects of your financial aid are out of your control—but not all.
When you’re applying for financial aid, the choices you make have real consequences on the types and amount of financial assistance you receive. Being prepared for the process can make a significant difference in getting help paying for school.
We talked to some of the financial aid experts here at IPFW and compiled a list of “secrets” to help students get the most out of the financial aid options that are available.
1. Apply Early
Generally speaking, the earlier you start the process, the more options you’ll have. You can apply as early as January 1st during your senior year of high school.
(Seriously, we can’t emphasize this enough. Open a new tab in your browser and start taking care of the first steps now.) The official FAFSA site can be found at FAFSA.gov.
While the official FAFSA deadline for federal funding actually extends well into summer, filing yours this late will almost certainly disqualify you from a lot of assistance opportunities.
Each state has their own deadline for financial aid consideration, and these usually fall well before the deadlines at the federal level—for example, Indiana’s deadline is March 10. Your university may also have deadlines of its own for you to be considered for financial aid, so be sure to check with their financial aid office.
Once you have your household’s tax information for the previous year you can start the process of filing your FAFSA, and we encourage you to do this as early as possible.
You can then use the extra time to seek out additional opportunities for assistance, such as merit-based or state-level scholarships.
Student vs. Parent Contributions
A lot of students wonder if it will better their chances at receiving a higher financial award package if they file as an independent on their taxes.
The answer is: sort of, but it depends.
All applicants for federal or state financial assistance are classified as either “independent” or “dependent” based on the previous year’s tax filings. If your parents claimed you as a dependent, you must include their financial information with your FAFSA.
Certain circumstances may affect where you’re considered a dependent. You can use this chart to help determine if you’re allowed to file your FAFSA as an independent.
2. Enroll Full Time if You Can
Enrolling only part time (usually less than 12 credit hours per semester) will severely limit the amount of financial aid you receive, or even disqualify you from certain scholarships, grants, or loans. Averaging 15 credit hours a semester may allow you to graduate in 4 years, saving you more money!
If you can handle it, plan to enroll in college as a full-time student to get the most options out of your financial award package. This will likely open you up to additional scholarship opportunities, financial assistance (like Work-Study jobs), and—if you take out federal loans—keep you from having to start making payments right away.
If you’re planning on working while in school, check out our post on how to deal with living The Double Life for advice on managing your time, stress, and energy when classes are just one of the things you have to deal with.
3. Proofread Your Financial Aid Applications
Maybe this sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how one little typo—a misplaced decimal or a zero instead of a nine—can seriously impact your financial aid awards. If you’re filling out the FAFSA for the first time, you might not even notice the discrepancy at first.
Double and triple check your financial aid forms, including your FAFSA, your tax filings, and any paperwork you fill out for your university. Double check the accuracy of your birth date and Social Security Number.
If you have a question or you’re not sure you filled out a form correctly, don’t just guess—ask someone! A five-minute conversation with a financial aid representative could save you thousands of dollars over the course of the next few years.
Got FAFSA Questions?
We know that filling out the FAFSA can be a headache (especially if it's your first time), but if you get all the necessary paperwork together ahead of time, it's actually a piece of cake. Download this free FAFSA Checklist to hep organize everything you'll need to complete the FAFSA.
Photo Credit to Bill Dickinson; Flickr