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5 Things You Must Do Right Now to Qualify for Financial Aid

Ok! Winter has officially arrived and now the holiday season is over. I checked my calendar and can’t believe that there are just 2 weeks left until most financial aid forms are due! And that means there is no time to start financial aid planning.

Instead, here’s a list of what parents of college-bound seniors need to do RIGHT AWAY to position themselves for applying for financial aid in the new year.

So, because the clock is ticking, I’ve put together a list of 5 tips that will help you deal with the financial aid shuffle.

Five Things You Must Do Now to Qualify For The Most Financial Aid

1. Apply for financial aid promptly. The first day to mail your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form was January 1st. Since need-based aid is awarded on a first come/ first serve basis, the sooner you have your forms in, the better positioned your family will be for any potential need-based aid you qualify for.

2. Complete the forms accurately. Statistically 90% of the forms go in with errors affecting your ability to qualify for financial aid. Read the forms carefully so the forms accurately reflect your situation and if the question does not apply to you, put a “0” rather than leaving the question blank.

3. Make sure your student is one of the top candidates at the school of his choice. Non-need based college aid is often based on merit. If the caliber of your student to falls into the top caliber of potential applicants, your family may receive a financial aid award that reflects the schools interest in having your student attend.

4. Indicate more than one school on FAFSA form. Since colleges can see which other schools you are sending your Student Aid Report to, they can “guesstimate” the amount of money likely to be awarded to your family based on their knowledge of prior year’s award packages from their competitors.

If you only put one college on your FAFSA form, you may be indicating that your student really wants to attend that school, which may keep the college from putting together the best financial aid award for your family.

5. Know if you are in category 1,2 or 3 as a family so you know what type of potential financial aid package you might expect.

Category 1 – will qualify for financial aid at all the schools they are applying to because the family Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is low enough to qualify for Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) and Perkins loans.

However, being a Category 1 family does not mean you will receive all the aid you want because not all colleges are in a position to meet all of your financial need. So in addition, Category 1 families should research their college choices to ensure the colleges they are applying to can put together awards that cover the majority of their need.

Category 2 – will qualify for some financial aid at the right schools. This family is not low income. They are middle class and their EFC is usually between $10,000 – $17,000 a year. If their student is applying to a state college, their out-of-pocket costs before financial aid kicks in is comparable to the tuition at the local state college. Meaning they may not qualify for much financial aid other than student loans at the wrong college.

It is imperative that a Category 2 family make sure their college choice is a good partner both academically and financially. This family will benefit from carefully matching their student academically to colleges where their child falls into the top caliber of students applying. Every year colleges release their latest freshman class demographics, so the informed family will use this information to see how their student stacks up because colleges often reward top students with better financial aid packages.

In addition to evaluating your student’s academic profile against the latest freshman class, it is equally important to make sure the college’s financial aid policy matches your needs. Because not all colleges can meet all of your financial need above your EFC. This can lead to your family covering both your EFC and the gap between your EFC and the cost of attendance.

Category 3 – family will not qualify for need-based financial aid at any of the colleges they are applying to. Their EFC is high because of family income and/or assets. All is not lost for this family because they may be able to pay for college out of their income or assets. And by filing the aid forms may find themselves pleasantly surprised when a college offers them financial aid they were not expecting.

Now you know what you must do right now, make sure you file by the deadlines, respond to any correspondence from the financial aid office and good luck.

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