School might be out for summer, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to slack off on planning for a student’s education. Preparing a good college game plan includes taking the early steps to be ready to spring into action when it comes time to act. Equally important, though, is being sure to avoid the pitfalls that can make financial aid planning more difficult. Here are some tips to use now in hopes of saving trouble down the road.
1. Do the math.
Crunching the numbers early in planning for college will help students and families get a clear picture of what is available for family contribution to paying for college. Students who get a clear understanding of what is available and what they will have to contribute are more likely to make informed decisions about everything from college choice to financial aid options.
2. Make sure to apply.
It might seem basic, but the first tip to remember falls into the “90 percent of success is showing up” philosophy. Many families choose not apply for financial aid because they think they make too much money to qualify. Before throwing in the towel (or ignoring the towel altogether), families should take advantage of calculators used for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and determine the amount they would be expected to pay before receiving aid. Since there is also no fee to submit the FAFSA, it costs families nothing to find out their eligibility for financial aid. Plus, complete FAFSAs go to colleges to which a student is applying, making them eligible for other financial aid and scholarships that might be available through the school.
3. Complete the application (or applications).
The FAFSA might be thorough (with many advocating for a shorter, less complex application), but some schools and often states, including Iowa, have other financial aid applications that are considered separately from the FAFSA. While much of the information of these applications are also found in the FAFSA, it’s important to check the requirements and deadlines for each school and state financial aid application to make sure that forms are completed correctly and avoid delays in being processed.
4. Talk with experts.
Whether a family is putting their first or fourth student through school, it always helps to talk with those who are closest to what is going on with financial aid issues. Talk with a student’s high school counselor, or even the financial aid department at a school in which a student is interested in attending. These experts will help provide the information that can save grief down the road.