|James Madison University|
Even though the clock is ticking down, there are still ways to stay ahead in the financial aid game. With a few properly-executed “plays,” you can definitely have an impact on what financial aid is offered and how close it comes to meeting your needs.
Here are a few good moves to make:
- Complete the FAFSA.
Even if you missed state and/or institutional priority deadlines,
you should still complete a FAFSA
as soon as possible. Yes, most schools have already allocated their funds.
But if there is anything left over, they may try to accommodate late
filers. And even if a school has distributed all its own aid, applicants
remain eligible for federal
loans and Pell
grants. Do it NOW.
- Submit Corrections. If you completed your FAFSA based on estimates, you should update immediately using tax information from 2011. Although colleges distribute financial aid packages based on estimates, they expect corrections to be made as soon as final information is available. Be aware that they may amend your package if revised numbers vary significantly from the estimates you provided—but this can work to your advantage if your income estimates were high.
- Answer your mail.
Watch for correspondence related to your FAFSA or other school-based
financial aid requests. And keep in mind that colleges are required by the
federal government to randomly select some applications for "verification." If you are asked to provide additional information or to clarify any of
your answers on application forms, respond immediately.
- Review the fine print. In
the rush of decision-making, you may have missed some important terms in
your financial aid package. Be
aware of any academic requirements to maintain your scholarship award and be sure
that your aid is guaranteed for a minimum of four years. If you expect to
study abroad, ask if your financial aid will carry with you. Plan ahead. Don’t wait until the money disappears
before addressing these issues with your financial aid office.
- Keep colleges informed. Be sure to make colleges aware of
any significant change in family circumstances, such as an unexpected
layoff, a salary cut, a divorce, or the death of a parent or guardian.
Most are very understanding and will make every effort to respond
promptly and with great compassion. It’s better to be upfront about
situations over which you have no control than to let a problem fester
until neither you nor the college can solve it.
- Educate yourself
about student loans. All new federal education loans are being
made through the Direct
Loan program and your college’s financial aid office with funds
provided by the US Department of Education. Although federal loans may offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans (including
loan forgiveness opportunities), it’s up to you to be a smart
consumer. Check out the information provided on the FinAid website and contact your
financial aid office with any additional questions you may have.
- Go back to the well. It can’t hurt to ask. As students make adjustments in their
plans for the fall, previously allocated money may get freed up. If you’re having a hard time making ends
meet or if the mix of grant aid and loans is proving burdensome—even
without an extraordinary change in circumstances—contact your financial
aid office and explain the situation.
- Continue the
scholarship hunt. Admittedly pickings are getting a little slim.
Nevertheless, continue checking with scholarship websites like Cappex or FastWeb, and register to receive
up-to-date information on competitions or other scholarship opportunities.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask about the availability of additional or future
scholarship money at your college or university.
- Keep your grades up. Colleges reserve the right to rescind merit scholarships if grades drop below the point of eligibility. On the other hand, strong senior year grades may push your overall GPA to a level high enough to qualify for additional money. Even a tenth of a percentage point could make a difference in dollars received. Again, it never hurts to ask.
Most importantly, remember that even at this late date, it’s worth playing the game to win.