With some application deadlines already past and more quickly approaching, high school seniors are starting to think realistically about choosing a college and planning for their futures. A major consideration for most will be how much money students get in financial aid. Scott Anderson, a leading authority on college funding and president of www.realcollegesavings.com, has given the Mirror some tips on what students can do now to get the best financial aid package possible.
First, families need to wrap up their finances before December 31 to avoid losing thousands of possible financial aid dollars. This date is important because the tax year records are what colleges will base offer letters on in the spring. Make any financial changes before this date, especially moving assets that are in the student’s own name.
Second, students should file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms before February 15. Even though this is not the final deadline, it is the priority deadline and getting forms in early will give you an edge. Do not wait for your taxes to be done to file this important application. Give as accurate an estimate as possible; it can always be updated later.
Anderson suggests that when applying, students should target schools where they will be in the top 25-50 percent of the incoming class. They can gauge this by finding the information on the school’s website. They should also target institutions that have a record of giving the most money. This information can also be accessed online at www.collegboard.com.
Another of Anderson’s tips is to not think that you have to take the first aid offer from a school. When the offers start coming in spring, compare them and write back to schools, negotiate for more money. “Students would be surprised how much money is out there for them if they just ask.”
One waste of time, in Anderson’s opinion, is spending lots of time researching and applying for outside scholarships. “It is standard practice for schools to discount their financial aid package based on outside monies,” he says. What is not a waste of time, however, is filling out every form that comes back to you from colleges you have applied to. “You cannot afford to be lazy, don’t lose out on this money.” Parents, Anderson warns against giving forms to kids to fill out – “Don’t rely on an 18-year-old,” or it could end up costing your family a bundle.
Finally, the most efficient way for families to finance college is through a home equity line of credit. No other loan for parents is as good. Perkins and Stafford loans are “excellent for students who are taking part of the responsibility of paying for their own education,” says Anderson.
Although it is never too early to start planning for college finances, families should start giving serious thought around sophomore or junior years. Senior year is still not too late, and families can still find ways to save money when sending their kids to school.