Read the eligibility requirements carefully and submit your scholarship application before the deadline. You may need to write an essay or provide other documentation as part of your application, so give yourself plenty of time to complete the application.
3. Look for FAFSA mistakes and correct them
Transposing numbers, not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, not reading instructions and definitions carefully — these are all common mistakes that could mean less money in the total aid you are awarded.
To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, review your FAFSA and CSS profiles to confirm you reported all of your information correctly. And if you catch an error after submitting, there’s still hope: Simply log in to the Federal Student Aid website with your FSA ID and explore your options under “Reviewing and Correcting Your FAFSA Form.”
Completing the FAFSA can be challenging. Don’t feel bad if you make a mistake that results in a disappointing financial aid award letter. Correct your error and consider following up with the financial aid office at your school of choice if you think the mistake may have affected your financial aid amount. (See more on that in the next tip!)
4. Consider whether to appeal your financial aid award
Sometimes, things change between the time you submit your FAFSA and the time you receive your financial aid award letter. If any of the following happens to you, you have the option to appeal the decision.
- You experienced a change in financial circumstances, such as a job loss or unexpected medical expenses.
- You believe there was an error in the calculation of your expected family contribution.
- You have unique circumstances, such as caring for an elderly or disabled family member.
- You are considered a dependent student but are unable to provide your parental information due to a unique situation.
To appeal your award letter, you’ll need to contact the financial aid office at your desired school. They’ll be able to determine if your situation warrants an appeal, but keep the following tips in mind:
- Be sure to gather all necessary documentation to support your appeal, such as tax returns, medical bills or other financial records.
- Explain your situation clearly and concisely to the financial aid office and in your appeal letter if one is determined warranted. Be sure to include relevant details that support your case.
- Follow up with the financial aid office to ensure that your appeal is being processed in a timely manner.
Remember, appealing your financial aid award letter is not a guarantee that your award will be increased. However, if you have a legitimate reason to appeal, it’s worth pursuing. You may be able to receive additional financial aid that can help you achieve your educational goals.
It’s also worth noting that you should only borrow what you need. Any loans you receive now will have to be repaid later, so be responsible about minimizing what you borrow. And if you have money left over after paying tuition, use that cash for educational expenses like books and fees.
5. Explore lower-cost colleges
Even with scholarships and grants, it’s often a stretch that your financial aid package will cover college tuition without going into debt. To avoid deferring your dream of earning a college degree, it’s always an option to consider more affordable colleges.
While public colleges generally have lower tuition rates compared to private institutions, private schools may offer more generous financial aid packages to offset the higher tuition costs, making them more affordable for some students.
Online colleges can also offer a viable option for nontraditional students, as they may have fewer direct expenses like the cost of living on campus and costs for commuting to and from classes that are associated with attending brick-and-mortar schools. University of Phoenix (UOPX), for example, offers fixed tuition rates and scholarship opportunities, making it easier to budget and plan for the cost of education.