The clock continues to tick down. But wherever you are in this year’s financial aid process, there are still opportunities to play to win the financial aid game in overtime.
In fact, with a few smooth moves, you might still have a significant impact on what financial aid is offered and how close the dollars come to meeting your needs.
If you think you need more money and are willing to stay in the game, here are late-game financial aid plays to keep your team in the competition:
- Create an FSA ID. The FSA ID—a username and password—replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN and must be used to log-in to certain Department of Education websites. Your FSA ID will confirm your identity when you access financial aid information and electronically sign Federal Student Aid documents. If you do not already have an FSA ID, you can create one when logging in to fafsa.gov, the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS®) at www.nslds.ed.gov, StudentLoans.gov, StudentAid.gov, and Agreement to Serve (ATS) at www.teach-ats.ed.gov.
- Complete the
Even if you missed state and/or institutional priority
deadlines, you should still complete a FAFSA
as soon as possible. It’s no secret that most colleges
have already allocated funds. But if there is anything left, they may try
to accommodate late filers especially if they are still trying to fill a
class. And even if a school has distributed all its own aid, you may still
be eligible for federal loans and Pell grants. Do it NOW.
- Check your status. After
submitting the FAFSA, be sure to check to see whether it has been
processed. You should get your Student
Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted,
within 3 days to 3 weeks depending on whether you filed by paper or online
and provided a working email address. Review the SAR carefully for errors.
- Submit corrections. If you
completed your FAFSA based on estimates, you should update immediately using tax
information from 2015. Although colleges can and will distribute financial
aid packages based on estimates, they expect corrections to
be made as soon as final information is available. Be aware that your
financial aid package could be amended if revised numbers vary
significantly from the estimates you originally provided—but this can work
to your advantage if your income estimates were a little on the high side.
- Answer mail. Watch for
correspondence related to your FAFSA or other school-based financial aid
applications. Keep in mind that colleges are required by the federal
government to randomly select applications for "verification”
using a “risk model” to identify sections of the FAFSA that are prone to
error or which seem inconsistent. If you are asked to provide
additional information or to clarify your answers on application forms,
don’t assume you’ve done anything wrong but do respond immediately.
Anyone who has not submitted federal verification requirements by deadline
risks having all federal, state, and need-based institutional financial
- Review the fine
the rush of decision-making, you may have missed some important terms contained
within 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. See if there
are provisions for covering increases in tuition. 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
Federal education loans are 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 some loan forgiveness opportunities), it’s up to
you to be a smart consumer. The good news is that interest rates on
federal student loans are set to drop for the second consecutive year. Undergrads
will see rates drop from 4.29% on Stafford loans issued for the 2015-16
school year to 3.76% for the 2016-17 school year.
- Go back to the
It can’t hurt to ask. As other 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 seems burdensome—even without an
extraordinary change in circumstances—contact your financial aid office
and explain the situation.
- Continue the
Admittedly scholarship competitions are getting a little scarce,
especially those that might help with fall 2016 expenses. Nevertheless,
continue checking with websites like Cappex or FastWeb, and register to receive up-to-date
information on competitions or other opportunities. Also, don’t hesitate
to ask about the availability of future scholarship dollars
at your college or university. If you hit the ball out of the park
freshman year in the way of academics or community service, there may be
scholarships targeted to sophomores.
- Be creative. As you
consider various summer employment opportunities or ways to earn a little
college cash before starting school, be sure to ask about scholarships,
tuition reimbursement, or any other programs that might provide college
assistance beyond your paycheck. And don’t forget about “matching”
grants. Check with your parents’ employers to see if they
participate in these kinds of generous scholarship opportunities.
- 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.
If you have questions concerning FAFSA, do not hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). You can also contact the Center by email or request "live help" by clicking a button located on the FAFSA website.
Remember that even at this late date, the cash may be worth playing into overtime!