How to Get the Most Financial Aid? 7 Tips to Maximize College Funding

Thursday, January 04, 2024
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It's no secret that attending college is becoming more and more expensive. Families who struggle financially might look at the cost of college as an impossible mountain to climb. But with the cost of higher education getting higher every year, even middle- and upper-class families are asking, "how can I get more financial aid?" 

According to the U.S. News and World Report, the average tuition and fees for out-of-state public universities total about $23,630 per year, while the average private school tuition and fees are now nearly $42,162 a year.

Most students apply for financial aid to help manage these costs, including both government grants and loans as well as scholarships. Though the process of applying for funding can be tedious, students should take advantage of college funding opportunities however and whenever they can.

Luckily, the NSHSS specializes in finding scholarships and other ways to pay for college for strong students. Here are seven of our best tips to help you strategize this next step in your journey.


1. File forms as early as possible

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is usually the first step toward gaining needed college funding. Based on FAFSA applications, the federal government gives eligible students a combined $150 billion a year with grants, student loans, and work-study awards.

Since the FAFSA forms can take time and require absolute accuracy, it’s important to start filling the application out as early as possible. The forms open on October 1, and some awards are granted on a first-come-first-served basis, so it’s in your best interest to get started right away. Starting early also allows time to proofread multiple times and to fix possible mistakes to make sure you get the most funding available to you.

2. Minimize student assets

FAFSA will make their calculations in part based on familial assets and how they are distributed. One important FAFSA and funding strategy, for example, is to make sure familial assets are in the right name to receive as much funding as possible. 

Parents and guardians are only expected to utilize 5.64 percent of their assets for college funding, while students are expected to use 20 percent of their own assets to pay for college. This means that, while gifting a student money for college is helpful and kind, that gift can actually cause that student to get less money in funding from FAFSA.

Parents, grandparents, and any other kind college donors should keep college money for a student in their own names, rather than transferring that money to the student or starting a college savings account in that student’s name. This will lower the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and allow students to qualify for more financial aid than if they keep assets in their own name.

Students should also be careful about the money they make from their own jobs and maybe even transfer money from extremely lucrative jobs to a parent’s name before applying for college funding.

3. Understand and utilize FAFSA strategies

Filling out the FAFSA forms requires strategy, not only at the time of completing the forms, but also prior to form completion. Do your research to find out what FAFSA strategies apply to you and your situation and general strategies like applying every year and appealing your funding if needed.

Some of these options might surprise you. For example, if you live with two different parents throughout the years as a result of divorce or separation, it actually benefits you to spend more time living with the parent who makes less money and has fewer assets. Because, when you’re filling out FAFSA, you’ll be required to list the income and assets of the parent with whom you spend the most time.

When thinking about how to get more money from FAFSA, you'll need to do it without lying or gaming the system. Finding ways to get more funding doesn't mean you need to lie or omit information - just be sure you are making the right selections.  

4. Fill out FAFSA regardless of income

If you think your family makes too much money to qualify for any college funding or you have a full scholarship, think again. You should still fill out FAFSA, because so many different factors go into determining college funding and you may be surprised at how you can get the most financial aid from FAFSA itself.

Some factors like whether or not a sibling will be in college at the same time as you or how many people are in your family could still allow you to qualify for subsidized loans. Just fill out the forms and see what happens.

Any help you can get to pay for college is worth the effort!

5. Prepare for merit-based aid possibilities

Many students will automatically choose the highest-rated school they get accepted to, with good reason - but that may not always be the best choice. Other great schools might have more merit-based aid available that make the cost of the school low enough it is the best value all around.

You might be one of the highest performing students applying to really great schools, even if those schools are not as highly-rated as your top choice. This often means that really impressive schools could give you merit-based aid, making college much more affordable and lowering the student loans you have to pay off later.

6. Consider even top-rated schools as options

Students sometimes write off top schools – especially Ivy-League schools – right away by assuming those schools’ tuitions will be too expensive, but you might be surprised how accessible some top-tier schools really are.

This is especially true if you have talents or qualities a school really wants, as even Ivy-League schools might offer special funding programs for students hoping to attend. Sometimes, based on how much a school wants you and how much aid is available, even the most expensive Ivy-League schools might be less expensive for you personally than an in-state public university.

The main lesson is to look into all possible options, rather than writing anything off too soon. Though it might take more effort, figuring out what funding will work best will be worth your while.

7. Apply for all possible scholarships

If you haven’t already, look for all possible scholarships to help augment any college funding you receive. Work on scholarship applications and look for opportunities for scholarships by utilizing your resources – like parents’ companies, community scholarships, special talent-based scholarships, alumni networks, etc. You’ll likely be surprised how many opportunities are available that you hadn’t yet realized.

As you start the process of applying for college funding, keep all these tips in mind and explore what options will be best for you. Do the work, and you will be able to get the most funding possible and set yourself up for financial success after graduation. And if you need any help, the NSHSS has a wealth of scholarship opportunities and resources for you!