How to Increase Your Chances of College Financial Aid

For families today, financial aid is more important than ever. Here are tips to ensure that you find and receive the higher education assistance you need.

By Reader’s Digest Editors

With tuition rising ever faster—the average annual cost at a private college is now close to $40,000 and is expected to rise to over $80,000 by 2025—getting financial aid is crucial for many families. If you’re one of them, you’ll want to check out these tips from Kalman A. Chany, author of Paying for College Without Going Broke: 2011 Edition (Random House/Princeton Review):

Don’t assume you won’t qualify. Your income or your grades may or may not make you ineligible, so do your research. And don’t rule out a college because you think it’s too expensive. The higher the cost, the more aid you may receive.

Don’t wait. There’s a limited amount of cash to go around. Apply for aid before you are accepted.

Apply early. You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA form, which is available online at fafsa.ed.gov, or you can order one by calling 800-433-3243. Some colleges require additional paperwork, including the College Board’s CSS/PROFILE application, state aid forms, and forms they themselves provide

Make the deadlines. And don’t assume there is only one. Different colleges have different deadlines for different forms, which can fall anywhere from late December, to March.

Know your “expected family contribution.” Use the online tool at www.finaid.org/calculators to figure what the colleges you are applying to think you can afford before you apply. That way you can plan accordingly and won’t be unpleasantly surprised.

Maximize your aid eligibility. Awards to incoming freshman are based in part on income for the year ending Dec. 31 of the student’s senior year in high school. Make appropriate adjustments to your assets, debts, and retirement provisions so that you can get as much aid as you can.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Don’t make stupid mistakes. Forgetting to sign financial aid applications, neglecting to fill them out completely or using the wrong academic year’s version of the forms will disqualify you.

File your tax returns asap. Some aid deadlines will require you to do a draft version of your income tax return with estimated numbers, so organize your paperwork and be prepared to fill out your tax forms early.

For more ideas on saving for college, visit savingforcollege.com.

Source: Paying for College Without Going Broke: 2011 Edition