Now that it’s almost springtime, parents of college-bound children may have already gone through their FAFSA woes, and students who applied to college should be finding out the results of their efforts.
However, it’s important that parents with children getting ready to go to college prepare for financial aid before the next season ramps up in October. After all, knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more financial aid you can get to help offset the overwhelming cost of higher education.
Below are several tips to help parents maximize the financial aid they receive from FAFSA (and beyond). Read on, and hopefully save money on your child’s college education!
Don’t count yourself out.
One of the most common mistakes parents with higher incomes make when it comes to financial aid is to not fill out a FAFSA form at all.
Even if you think your income is too high to qualify for financial aid, plenty of factors go into how students qualify, from how many other children in your family are attending college to how many total family members live in your home. It’s better just to fill out the form and find out for sure.
Meanwhile, filling out the FAFSA form opens up other financial aid possibilities, so just fill one out no matter what you think the outcome might be.
Strategize prior to filling out your FAFSA forms.
Though you might think filling out a FAFSA form is a pretty straightforward process, there are considerations you’ll need to keep in mind even before you start applying for financial aid.
Here are some factors to consider before you prepare to fill out your FAFSA forms:
Your Child’s Dependency Status
Dependency status is different for financial aid than you might be used to, so take a look at the dependency requirements to make sure you know whether or not your child is considered a dependent.
Students are considered dependents for the FAFSA if they are:
- Younger than 24 years
- Completing a degree other than a master’s or doctorate
- Not an active-duty military member or veteran
- Not supporting a child or dependent
- Not previously in foster care or a dependent of the state after age 13
- Not an emancipated minor or a homeless unaccompanied youth
College Savings Accounts
You might have a college savings account, such as a 529 plan. If so, take a look at the account and make sure it is not listed in your child’s name.
This might seem counter-intuitive, but FAFSA assigns more financial responsibility to minors to fund their own education than they assign parents. So if the form shows that your child has a large sum of money saved for college, your child will be asked to pay a higher percentage of that money than you would if it were under your name.
Your Child’s Income and Savings
Along similar lines, make sure your child doesn’t make too much money in a side job or have too much money saved. You will need to report all of that income and savings to FAFSA, and again, your child will be required to pay a higher percentage of that money than you will be required to pay of any money that is in your name.
This kind of strategy is not meant to be sneaky, but some parents and students have not received the level of aid they really need because of simple money transfer errors.
Go through the FAFSA process.
You’ll need to get your FSA ID, which should be ready right away if it’s your first time or ready within three days if you’ve had an FSA ID from previous applications. The process should take about ten minutes.
Then, you can go through the steps to fill out the FAFSA forms on fafsa.gov. Take a look at the helpful article 8 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA Form for all the steps you’ll need to take while you fill out the application.
Be sure to double check all the information on the FAFSA form and avoid making common mistakes. Read through the form a few times before submitting and make sure you have filled it out correctly and offered all possible information to help get the most financial aid possible.
Review the Student Aid Report (SAR).
Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA form, your child will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR, via email. This document summarizes your FAFSA form and will give you an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).
Make sure all the information is accurate, and if anything looks incorrect, contact the financial aid office of your child’s college of choice to get extra help with the process.
Alert institutions of any special circumstances.
Some families go through life or situation changes after filling out the FAFSA form that affect their ability to pay for their child’s college education.
If you find your family going through any special circumstances like losing a job or changing jobs, make sure to alert your child’s institution so that your financial aid can be adjusted as needed.
Seek scholarships wherever you can.
FAFSA is not the only way to get help paying for your child’s college education. In fact, scholarship opportunities are everywhere, as long as you’re willing to look.
Have your child look for any opportunities they can apply for at school or through any community involvement like church, athletics, volunteer organizations, or local alumni networks.
Meanwhile, you’ll find scholarships available through organizations like NSHSS based on merit and special talents. Any and all scholarships could be helpful to your financial situation, so don’t be afraid to search high and low.