You’ve filled out your FAFSA, you’re getting close to making your college decision and your financial aid award letter comes in the mail, typically around mid-April. You’re excited because this is one extra piece to help you make a decision. After you receive your letter, you realize that the amount of money in your award letter (expected family contribution, school’s financial aid package) does not equal the cost of attendance. Now what do you do? Here are some steps that you can take to improve your financial aid package.
1) Appeal the financial aid award letter. If the entire package comes up short, call someone at the financial aid office at the school and talk to them about it. Maybe there was a paperwork snafu, they misread your paperwork or you had a change in your situation since you filled out the FAFSA like a loss of job or death in the family. Either way, you won’t get any more money if you don’t ask.
2) Look for various scholarships. Scholarships aren’t just for Mensa members and athletes, everyone can earn a scholarship. There is paperwork to fill out and often some creative aspect of the application, but you can potentially recycle your college essays, your senior year thesis or the results of your science project. (That’s what I did and earned over $1,500) Ask your guidance counselor or search scholarship databases online for a list of scholarships that you may be eligible for.
3) Consider a part-time job. That is, if you feel like you have time for it and did not qualify for a federal work study program. Work-study is also something that you can appeal above if it was not part of your package. If you feel you can work more hours than a work-study program, a part-time job at the grocery store down the street or the burrito shop two blocks away could be a great alternative. Don’t forget to work as much as you can during the summer.
4) Reduce expenses. Can you live at home? Do you have an aunt/uncle in the area? Is this your dream school or can you go to the less expensive one? Can you graduate in 3 years or 3.5 years to reduce a semester or two of school? Can you attend a community or local school for two years, then transfer after your sophomore year? These are all questions that you can ask yourself if money is tight.
5) Private student loans. So you’ve done everything above and it’s still short. Research private student loans. These loans are not subsidized meaning your interest will accrue while you’re attending school. There are loans for the student and loans for the parents. Do your research online and pick the loan that works for your situation.