Last year, CNBC
reported that roughly $150 billion is disbursed by the government in financial aid every year. While families go to great lengths to attempt to qualify for financial aid, there’s a chance they’re not doing enough.
That’s even more true this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic
has made everything harder on high school students. It’s difficult to attend classes in-person, let alone seek out help in applying for financial aid.
The Hechinger Report
has identified a new troubling trend as a result of COVID: FAFSA
applications are down by 16% year-over-year. This means that the number of financial aid dollars that students miss out on could be even greater.
In a typical year, students have access to FAFSA help through school and community events, but social distancing measures and school closures have made these events near impossible. According to The Hechinger Report
, some communities have offered drive-thru help or socially distanced help sessions, but it’s not enough.
Families aren’t just dealing with college applications, they’re working through job losses, financial uncertainty, and a lack of resources. Naturally, applying for financial aid has fallen down on the list of priorities.
If you are making a plan to attend college next year, it’s vital that you put in the work and effort to apply for financial aid. How can you ensure that you're getting the most out of the financial aid dollars offered? Do the following:
1. File the FAFSA.
stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, but it’s not just for federal aid. It’s required for state and school aid as well. If you don’t fill out and submit the FAFSA, it can be detrimental to your odds of getting financial aid. And though it has a reputation for being difficult, its bark is actually worse than its bite.
Students and families who are daunted by the task of filing the FAFSA can get help navigating the form. For one, there is 24/7 assistance via email, chat and phone. Many states and communities around the country host a FAFSA help day each year as well.
Students and their families can meet one-on-one with counselors and mentors in order to answer questions and fill out the form. Finally, students can work with their guidance counselors anytime to answer FAFSA questions.
To file the FAFSA, you will need: your social security number, alien registration number (if you’re not a U.S. citizen), federal income tax returns, bank statements and records of investment, records of untaxed income and an FSA ID.
2. Complete supplemental forms.
When it comes to state aid and financial aid
from your college of choice, you may be required to fill out additional forms. Do not skip these forms. They ask more in-depth, circumstantial questions than the FAFSA to get a better idea of how each family can pay for college.
For instance, if one of your parents recently lost their job or you have a sibling that requires a great deal of medical care and financial coverage, you can better elaborate your financial situation on these forms. Furthermore, these supplemental aid forms may be required by your state or school to even qualify.
3. Review your aid packages and make appeals.
When college decisions arrive, they usually contain – or will be followed shortly thereafter – with your financial aid package. Once you’ve heard from all of your colleges, compare the packages to determine which school is the best financial fit for you. You can compare offers to see how much you would have to pay after financial aid. FinAid has a handy comparison tool that allows you to input the figures to get the final figures in black and white: FinAid Award Letter Comparison Tool
Once you’ve studied and compared your packages, you can actually call each school’s financial aid office to appeal your offer. Through this conversation, you can present your family’s financial circumstances in more detail, compare the offer you’ve received from another school and express your desire to attend that particular institution if the finances work out.
4. File the FAFSA EVERY year.
Finally, the FASFA is not a one and done type application. You must file the FAFSA every year to be considered for financial aid. To fail to fill out the FAFSA would mean no financial aid for the following school year. If, by chance, you didn’t qualify for financial aid the first time you filled out the form, chances are good that you would qualify next time around, especially if you had a sibling that was going to enroll in college as well for the next academic year.
Essentially, family circumstances change; and with that, your FAFSA answers and financial aid eligibility
will as well. The same goes for state and school financial aid forms.
Filing the FAFSA and getting all of your other financial aid forms squared away may seem daunting and will likely take some time; however, it’s worth it. Literally. To take advantage of the billions available in financial aid, don’t forget to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.