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Top 10 Steps for Paying for College

Whether you are a senior finalizing your college plans or a freshman who is just beginning the college search it's never to early to start planning on how to pay for college. Here's a list of 10 steps to consider financially as you plan for college.

1. It’s Never Too Early
It’s never too early to start inves­ti­gat­ing how you’ll pay for col­lege. There are many invest­ment accounts where you can save money tax-free, basi­cally start­ing from birth! Pre-paid tuition plans were cre­ated to be inflation-proof, so that’s another way you can start sav­ing early. Or, if you can’t afford to put aside any money, just study­ing for and doing well on your PSATs, SATs, and other stan­dard­ized tests can put you way ahead in the finan­cial aid game.

2. Apply for Aid Before Being Accepted
Inquire about the required finan­cial aid forms when request­ing admis­sions appli­ca­tions, and start the finan­cial aid process six to nine months before you plan to enter school. Cre­ate a check­list of when all appli­ca­tions and forms are due.

3. Com­plete the FAFSA
Pick up a copy of the Fed­eral Appli­ca­tion for Free Stu­dent Aid (FAFSA) form from your high school guid­ance office or any col­lege admis­sions office. Com­plete and sub­mit the FAFSA to the fed­eral proces­sor as soon as pos­si­ble after Jan­u­ary 1 of the year you will be attend­ing school. An online ver­sion of the FAFSA, called the FAFSA on the Web, is avail­able through the Depart­ment of Education.

4. Find Out If You Need the CSS PROFILE
If you are con­sid­er­ing apply­ing to a pri­vate col­lege or uni­ver­sity, find out if the school requires the PROFILE, a new cus­tomized appli­ca­tion for insti­tu­tional aid made avail­able by The Col­lege Schol­ar­ship Service.

5. Inves­ti­gate Schol­ar­ships and Grants
The best way to receive an out­side schol­ar­ship is to research your options. Spend a day at the library or on the Inter­net and inves­ti­gate free resources. But make sure to take a look at the site’s pri­vacy pol­icy, and be aware that you might encounter out­dated data.

If you are plan­ning to use a paid search ser­vice instead, inves­ti­gate it thor­oughly first to make sure it’s from a rep­utable com­pany. Develop a pow­er­ful resume that empha­sizes your strengths and abil­i­ties. Com­pile and sub­mit nec­es­sary appli­ca­tions as soon as possible.

6. Review Your Stu­dent Aid Report (SAR)
Approx­i­mately three to four weeks after sub­mit­ting the FAFSA, you will receive an acknowl­edg­ment let­ter from the fed­eral proces­sor called the Stu­dent Aid Report (SAR). Review the SAR to ensure all infor­ma­tion is accu­rate. If nec­es­sary, sub­mit corrections.

7. Deter­mine Your Expected Fam­ily Con­tri­bu­tion
The most impor­tant ele­ment of both the SAR and the CSS PROFILE acknowl­edg­ment let­ter will be the Expected Fam­ily Con­tri­bu­tion (EFC). The EFC is the out-of-pocket expense that you and/or your fam­ily are expected to con­tribute to your edu­ca­tion. Finan­cial aid offices use the EFC to deter­mine your finan­cial aid award.

8. Review Your Finan­cial Aid Award Let­ters
Begin­ning in April, you should receive an award let­ter from the finan­cial aid office of each col­lege to which you have been accepted. The award let­ter states the type and amount of finan­cial aid you will receive. Review your award let­ters to make sure they reflect accu­rate information.

9. Con­sider Nego­ti­at­ing for a Bet­ter Finan­cial Aid Award
Your finan­cial aid award will be a com­bi­na­tion of grants, schol­ar­ships, work-study pro­grams, state grants, and low-interest loans. If the pack­age from a par­tic­u­lar school is dis­ap­point­ing, it is pos­si­ble at this time to con­tact the finan­cial aid office and try to nego­ti­ate a bet­ter award, espe­cially if you receive a bet­ter pack­age from another school. Use this bet­ter finan­cial aid award as a bar­gain­ing tool.

10. Apply for Loans
You and your fam­ily may decide to seek addi­tional funds by apply­ing for a fed­eral Par­ent Loan for Under­grad­u­ate Stu­dents (PLUS), a Fed­eral Stafford Loan, or a pri­vately insured sup­ple­men­tal loan.

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