College Financing 2009: Tips for Getting Aid
- Catherine Brock - MortgageLoan.com
Stressed out about paying for college this year? Then it's time to brush up on your financial aid know-how.
Here's a tip about paying for college: starting up your own university, like Bartleby Gaines did in the movie Accepted, isn't a reasonable action plan. It's much easier to secure the money you need by learning how to navigate through the college finance system. To help you out, here are the top college finance tips for locking in aid in 2009.
Know what's out there
It can be difficult to qualify for federal need-based aid, but that's not the only source of funding available. There are also student loans, via government and private channels, as well as merit scholarships, community scholarships, grants, and even sponsorships.
Be first in line
The federal government, state government, and each school impose their own deadlines on submitting financial aid applications, but waiting until the last minute is a bad idea. Always apply as early as possible. You can sit down with your parents and fill out the Free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on January 1 for the school year that begins the following September. You may have to use estimated figures for income and year-end assets, but this is acceptable as long as you provide updated information once you and your parents have completed your tax returns. It's worth the extra step, since those who submit the FAFSA sooner have a better chance of securing financial aid.
Another document to complete right away is College Board's PROFILE, which is used by private schools and scholarship programs to determine eligibility for non-federal aid. For more information, visit CollegeBoard.com.
Read the fine print
Don't rush through the FAFSA; you could radically reduce your eligibility just by filling out the form incorrectly. Your list of total assets, for example, shouldn't include exempt retirement accounts. If it does, you could miss out on a very large chunk of aid.
Pay off debt
Cash balances hurt your eligibility for financial aid, but debt balances make no difference. Use your stash of cash to pay off the debt; you'll improve your eligibility profile and reduce your cost of living at the same time.
Keep your student loan options open
The number one rule of college finance is to keep your options open. If you have good grades, don't get hung up on the idea of an Ivy League education-particularly if you can earn high-dollar merit awards elsewhere. As an example, California State University, Long Beach offers a President's Scholars Program that awards full scholarships (including tuition, housing, and books) to selected students who meet certain academic qualifications.
Student loans are usually a paying-for-college option, too. But make them your last option-that is, just before you decide to establish your own school, a lá Bartleby Gaines.
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