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
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.