6 Last-Minute Tips for Financial Aid Applicants
6 Last-Minute Tips for Financial Aid Applicants
deadlines to apply for financialâ€„aid are fast-approaching.
Over the next few days or weeks, many students will be making sure they're filing the required paperwork accurately and on time â€” two factors that can be just as important as the academic application itself. Upon submitting these forms, a student becomes eligible for grants, work study and federalâ€„studentâ€„loans. If you miss the deadline, you might not get to attend a particular college, or graduate with thousands of dollars of student-loan debt.
Here are six last-minute tips college applicants and their parents should act on to increase their shot at financial aid.
Missed deadline? Thereâ€™s still time
Even if you miss a universityâ€™s deadline, you should still file as soon as possible.
Most collegesâ€™ deadlines are set for the purpose of giving out aid from its own coffers. That includes school grants and need-based scholarships, plus money the federal government gives to a university to disperse like work study, Perkins loans and the Supplementary Educational Opportunity Grants. First in line are folks who applied on time. But if there is anything left over, schools â€œwill certainly move beyond that deadline to provide aid to students who filed late,â€ says Tally Hart, a senior advisor at Ohio State Universityâ€™s Economic Access Initiative, which focuses on college students from low-income families.
And even if a school has given out all of its own aid, applicants are still eligible for federal Stafford student loans, PLUS loans to parents and the Pell grant. (To qualify for these for the 2010-11 academic year, a student needs to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the federal deadline of June 30, 2011.)
However, missing a schoolâ€™s deadline for financial aid applications may mean missing out on state grants. Often, colleges set up their own financial aid deadlines to meet their stateâ€™s respective deadline, says Debbie Cochrane, a program director at the Institute for College Access & Success, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes college affordability.
Fill in missing parts of the FAFSA
School deadlines for financial aid applications that are set earlier in the year require student applicants to submit the FAFSA before their parentsâ€™ tax returns are filed. Sometimes that means families are making estimates based on their previous yearâ€™s taxes. But once you have the official numbers for 2009, students should quickly update their FAFSA -- ideally online -- or risk losing a chance at aid.
â€œIn a close call situation, the school will be more likely to award financial aid where they have complete confidence that the information they received about that a studentâ€™s need is complete,â€ says Jim Boyle, president of College Parents of America, an advocacy organization for parents of college students.
Some colleges will distribute financialâ€„aidâ€„packages to students whose FAFSAs have estimates, but those students still have to submit 2009 tax return figures. And if theyâ€™re significantly different than the estimates, a college can alter the financialâ€„aidâ€„package.
Stay on top of correspondence
During this time, financialâ€„aid offices send requests â€“ by mail or email â€“ for information that a student may have forgotten to include in their application or for clarification purposes. Students should respond within two weeks. The earlier a student responds, the more likely it is that theyâ€™ll receive their official financialâ€„aidâ€„package sooner.
Inform financial aid offices about changes to financial circumstances
Students should inform collegesâ€™ financial aid offices about any sudden changes to their familyâ€™s financial circumstances â€“ like a layoff, salary cut, divorce or a parentâ€™s death â€“ that impact their need for aid.
â€œItâ€™s very important to be in touch with financialâ€„aidâ€„office for anything of that nature that is beyond a familyâ€™s control that significantly impacts their ability to pay,â€ says Hart.
Ideally, students should contact the aid office before they receive their package, so that the aid can be adjusted to reflect the new circumstances. Otherwise, the package might need to be redone or a student may have to appeal to the college for more free money â€“ either of which can take several weeks.
In general, when a student doesnâ€™t know the exact amount and type of financial aid that theyâ€™re receiving, they may not be able to decide which college to attend since many wait to do a side-by-side comparison of each collegeâ€™s financial aid offers before selecting where to enroll.
Go scholarship hunting
Whatever a studentâ€™s forte is â€“ essay writing, science projects or community work â€“ it isnâ€™t too late to apply for outside scholarships that reward their talent.
Students should search for scholarships awarded within their community or by large corporations and nonprofits. Receiving a scholarship can alter your financial aid award, but often it will result in a college filling the gap between costs and aid or decreasing your student loans.
Donâ€™t think youâ€™re set with stateâ€„grants
The extent of state budget gaps this year means that grant programs may be on shaky ground, says Cochrane.
"We anticipate in most states â€“ if not substantial cuts to financial aid programs â€“ then substantial discussions about cuts to financial aid programs,â€ she says. The result? â€œThereâ€™s the potential for students to have their grants taken away from them or reduced for 2010-11 academic year.â€
Students who are unsure about their state grants for the upcoming academic year should stay in touch with their collegeâ€™s financial aid office, which can provide them with updates.