How To Approach Financial Aid: 3 Must-Follow Strategies

The average cost of college in the United States has tripled in the past 20 years with most students paying around $35,720 per year now.

That cost likely isn’t decreasing any time soon. But there are ways to limit how much you pay out of pocket. US News recently spoke to experts on how to best access financial aid to avoid paying full price for a college education.

ALWAYS APPLY

Many students may decide not to apply for financial aid simply based on the assumption that they won’t qualify. But students are more often than not likely to be eligible for some money. And the numbers show a clear picture.

In fact, according to the Education Data Initiative, 86% of college students benefit from some form of financial aid. Data shows that public programs are often underutilized with over $2 billion in student grants alone left unclaimed each year.

“There’s a likely chance that you are, in fact, eligible,” Shannon Vasconcelos, director of college finance for Bright Horizons College Coach, tells US News. “Don’t assume that because your neighbor, who you think has about the same amount of money as you do, didn’t qualify, you won’t qualify. You have no idea what’s going on in other peoples’ household finances.”

USE THE IRS DATA RETRIEVAL TOOL

Applying for financial aid on FAFSA can often be time-consuming and complex. To ease that process, experts recommend utilizing the IRS data retrieval tool, which automatically transfers federal tax return information from the IRS to a student’s online FAFSA form.

“Estimating income information or making input errors on the FAFSA application can complicate the process when it is time for financial aid to be offered,” Courtney Henderson, director of the student financial center at the University of Oklahoma, tells US News.

APPLY EARLY

Experts recommend making note of all financial aid deadlines for each college and applying before the set dates to ensure you have the best chance at receiving some aid.

“Generally speaking, the forms are submitted once online to all of your colleges that require them,” Jeff Levy, co-founder of Big J Educational Consulting in California, tells US News. “What that means is if you’re submitting the FAFSA, let’s say, one time to all of the colleges, you have to submit before the college with the earliest deadline.”

Sources: US News, Education Data Initiative, Education Data Initiative

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