6 Tips to Maximize Your Search for Financial Aid

The following piece was written by David Bakke, a contributing writer for the popular personal finance website and blog, Money Crashers. He offers expertise on many important topics ranging from student loan debt and frugal living to retirement planning and careers. His work has been featured in various prominent publications such as Forbes and U.S. News & World Report.


The cost of a college education is high, and only getting higher. According to the College Board, the overall cost of one year of school at a public college comes in right around $22,000. At a private school, that number is closer to $43,000. The prospect of assuming that much debt is enough to scare anyone off, so the last thing you want to do is rely strictly on student loans to finance your education. There are a ton of alternative options at your disposal to decrease the overall cost of your time in school, so follow these six tips to help get you started today:


1. Do not solely rely on your financial aid office

The first place to go to optimize your search for assistance is your school's financial aid office. You can get information and guidance on the many forms of aid available from government-subsidized loans to assistance from private lenders, and make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck. It would be a mistake, however, to rely entirely on this resource. There are plenty of other outlets available; they just take a bit of effort to produce results.

2. Immerse yourself in the internet

Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Once you've exhausted the resources at your financial aid office, it's time to take advantage of the many other opportunities at your disposal. Countless grants, scholarships, and other forms of free money can be found simply by scouring the Internet. Many are available based on your race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and your involvement in professional organizations. Dig deep, and you may be surprised at what you find.

3. Start your search early and apply as soon as possible

You’ll want to start your search as early as you can for all forms of financial aid. Don't wait until posted deadlines to submit your application. A lot of the grant money out there is allocated quickly and the last thing you want to do is miss out because you waited too long to apply. Even if you're only a junior in high school, it can't hurt to begin your search. That way, you're going to be better informed about how financial aid programs work and the best ways to take advantage of them. 

4. Choose federal loans over private 

Focus on federal student loans rather than loans from private institutions. Of course, once your federal loan options are exhausted, you may be forced to explore financing via private lenders – just be aware that interest rates are usually higher and payback options are generally much more strict. Make sure you've availed yourself of all federal loan opportunities before enlisting the help of private banks. 

5. Create your own FAQ list 

The process of obtaining financial aid for college can be time-consuming, especially if you research all your available options. However, you may find that many applications require answers to very similar questions. If you're looking to cut down on the time you spend, create a document with answers to some of the more commonly asked questions. That way, you can reduce your workload to a little copying and pasting, save yourself some valuable time, and get more aid for college.

6. Never assume you don't qualify

Even if you come from a high-income family, you may very well still qualify for financial aid. According to a recent survey by Sallie Mae, close to 30% of kids coming from these families never even bothered to fill out applications for federal student financial aid in 2011. This can be a big mistake. Sallie Mae also reports that students from families that earned more than $100,000 per year also received an average of over $5,000 in aid that same year. Do yourself a favor and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and see what happens. You might be surprised at the results.

Final Thoughts

Once you've done all you can to impact your college costs, it's time to get to work on college expenses. Forget about campus health insurance – you're covered under your parents' plan until you reach the age of 26. Investigate the campus meal plan and make sure it's worth the cost. Avoid things like campus errand services, laundry pick up, and college debit cards because when you gauge them against the alternatives, they're simply not worth the cost. Just because your institution is doing everything in its power to bump up your college bill doesn't mean you have to fall prey to its tactics. 

What ways can you think of to find financial aid?


For more information on how to finance your college education, visit MoneyCrashers.com. 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors