tips for maximizing financial aid and saving money on college tuition
Posted : October 28, 2013
Last Updated : August 2, 2016
Attending college is not cheap. Financial aid and money-saving techniques are critical components in making higher education a possibility for most students. Use these tips to make sure you are doing everything possible to maximize your financial aid and save money on your college tuition.
Submit the FAFSA early. One of the most important ways to maximize your financial aid is to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early. You should fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1st of the year prior to your college start date. It is important to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible so you will meet financial aid priority deadlines. If your FAFSA is received by the priority deadlines, the financial aid office should give you (if eligible) first consideration for some federal and state financial aid programs that have limited funds.
Apply to more than one school. You may be set on one particular school, but applying to a few schools may help maximize your financial aid. Because financial aid officers have limited budgets, they can only offer so much financial aid to students to help attract them to their school. If you apply early decision or only include one school on your FAFSA, then that school will know it doesn't need to allot as much of its budget to persuade you to enroll. Just like you compete with other students for enrollment, let the colleges compete with each other to entice you with their financial aid offers. When comparing financial aid award packages, keep in mind that the amount of financial aid you receive isn't the only factor you should consider in choosing a college. There may be several schools on your list of choices that balance academic, personal, and financial needs.
Apply to out-of-state or private schools. If you avoid applying to out-of-state or private schools because you fear the cost is too expensive, you may be decreasing your potential for maximizing financial aid. Yes, in-state, public colleges may be cheaper because you/your parents are already contributing to the funding of public colleges in your state when paying taxes. However, many out-of-state or private schools may be able to offer financial aid packages that make tuition equal to or even less than that of state schools. Because colleges want to achieve a diverse student body, they may offer impressive financial aid packages to students who are from other geographic locations or exhibit other types of diversity, such as race, academic, socioeconomic, etc.
Earn college credits before you enroll. One of the best ways to save money on college tuition is to earn college credits via examinations or high school dual enrollment. Many colleges award credit to students who have taken and achieved qualifying scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations. You may also be able to earn college credits and save money by taking College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests. Be sure to check with the school you plan to attend to assess the school’s policy on these examinations. Dual enrollment is a program that allows high school students to enroll in college courses for credit prior to high school graduation. Financial requirements for dual enrollment will vary depending on location so check with your school counselor to find out your state's specific rules on who should pay for dual enrollment tuition, laboratory fees, and textbook costs.
Utilize college tuition tax credits and deductions. To help you pay for higher education, the federal government offers tuition tax credit and deduction programs. A tax credit reduces your tax liability dollar for dollar. You or your parents have two tax credits you may be able to claim to offset part of your expenses: the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. A tax deduction reduces the income on which your tax is calculated. Examples of tax deductions that you or your parents may be able to benefit from are the Tuition and Fees Deduction and the Student Loan Interest Deduction. For more information about these tax credits and deductions, read Tax Rewards for Your College Spending or visit irs.gov.
Apply for scholarships every year. Many students only apply for scholarships during their senior year of high school, but you should begin applying for scholarships during your junior year of high school and continue to apply for scholarships each year until you graduate from college. Read Ways to Find Scholarships to help you with your search. Once you are in college, be sure to check with your academic department to find out if scholarships specific to your major are available. You should also contact your financial aid advisor who can tell you if you are eligible for any need-based scholarships or grants awarded directly from the school. Be sure to perform a free scholarship search and enter for a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship from eCampusTours.com.
Submit a financial aid professional judgment appeal if necessary. If your financial situation changes dramatically after you file the FAFSA, consider submitting a financial aid professional judgment appeal. Professional judgment is the ability of a financial aid counselor to change a student's financial aid based on unusual circumstances. Professional judgment policies may differ from school to school, so you should meet with your advisor to discuss your situation. Circumstances, such as death in the family, sudden unemployment of a parent, unusual medical expenses, etc., can lead to more financial aid. You should provide your advisor with documentation of the changes. Keep in mind that adjustments to aid awards are not made based on negotiations but on actual financial changes in your family.
These are just a few tips that may help you offset part of your college expenses. For more information and tips, review all of the articles in the Paying for College section of this website.