You’ve spent years studying, writing papers, and stacking up those extracurricular activities in hopes of wooing the college of your dreams. Now that you have that acceptance letter in hand, life couldn’t be better…until you receive a bill that is probably larger than any bill you have ever had in your lifetime. Tuition, room and board, books and various other fees really add up! Here are some tips that will allow you to enjoy the college experience and minimize the nightmares of the tuition bill that will come in time.
- Apply Early. There is a limited amount of scholarship and grant money available each school year. The earlier you apply, (you can start New Year’s Day! Don‘t all get the party hats and horns out at once now!) the better your chances are of receiving financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships (money you do not have to pay back!! Now you can get the party hats out!). This type of financial aid is awarded by need and on a first-come, first-serve basis. While the deadline for filling out your FAFSA is June 30th, the later you apply the slimmer your chances of receiving aid even if you are eligible.
- Apply, Apply Apply. You cannot get what you do not apply for. There are grants and scholarship money available and chances are you will qualify for at least something out there. Use search engines and see what is out there. It cannot hurt and it is essentially free money!
- Family Can Help. Some colleges offer tuition discounts if more than one child in a family is enrolled in college at the same time. Others even offer partial tuition remission to children of alumni. Investigate your school's policies! Check with mom and dad's employers. Some employers may offer some assistance. Do your research, every little bit defrays the amount borrowed through FAFSA.
- Get Organized. Gather the materials you need before completing the FAFSA, it will save you time and the aggravation of looking for them once you’ve started. You will need: your social security number, driver’s license number, W-2 forms, your (and your spouses or parents) Federal Income Tax Return, your current bank statement, current business and investment mortgage information along with any other investment information, and documentation that you are a United States citizen.
- The Less Assets the Better. Students' assets are weighed more heavily than parent assets. For this reason, students should spend their assets before parents to minimize the amount expected to go towards educations. Keep in mind expenses students might have like a computer, books, dorm supplies, etc.. FAFSA does not take these expenses into account. To minimize assets, consider paying bills ahead of time.
- Do Your Taxes. Taxes may be due April 15th, but the sooner you complete your IRS 1040 the easier it will be to fill out your FAFSA form. A majority of the financial information you need can be found right on your tax form. By completing your taxes early, you will have all of your financial information in one easy-to-access place. If you some reason early tax completion is not a possibility, you can estimate this information, but you must later complete the FAFSA corrections form with correct information.
- Get a FAFSA PIN Number. You can apply for your PIN number online. This will give you access to the FAFSA form and your financial records online all throughout your college years. This number can by mailed or e-mailed to you. Write in down in a safe place, but don't worry if you lose it you can request it again.
- Fill in the blanks. Now that you’ve been accepted into college, I am sure we have all mastered the fill in the blank technique. However, here is a quick FAFSA fill in the blank re-fresher: use zeros or “not applicable” instead of leaving information blank- too many blanks and FAFSA may reject your application. Remember to answer the question regarding drug-related offenses. If you are unsure, find out before you submit your FAFSA. Answering yes, does not always disqualify you from receiving financial aid. Not answering at all, may result in delays.
- Remember to Renew Your FAFSA. In order to keep your grants and loans coming, remember to renew your FAFSA. You can use the FAFSA renewal form online. This form will pre-populate information, allow you to update information, and fill in your current tax information.
Now that we have gotten through the excitement of college that is the FAFSA, relax and enjoy the next four (or more) years!!