Tips for Maximizing Your Financial Aid

By Ashley Paskill on May 15, 2024

This article is brought to you by GradGuard. We protect college students and their families from the financial risks of college life, like providing a refund for tuition or replacing a stolen backpack when your school may not. When the unexpected happens, GradGuard’s tuition insurance and renters insurance can help you get back on track.

It is no secret that college is super expensive. From tuition and books to dorm costs and living expenses, the cost of a college degree is quite hefty. This is why so many students rely on various forms of financial aid. Knowing where to find financial aid and how to make the most of the aid you receive can help you save your hard-earned money now and in the future.

Apply for FAFSA

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a free application that allows students to know what kinds of federal grants, loans, and work-study programs they can receive to help pay for college. The FAFSA has a deadline each year for when to apply, but each school also has a deadline for submitting the FAFSA, so be sure to check with your specific school. The application is free, so be cautious of anything that says you need to pay to submit the FAFSA. The FAFSA needs to be submitted each year you are in school. Sit down with your family members to have them help you with information you may not know.

Different kinds of aid

There are several different forms of financial aid for college. FAFSA allows you to find out about government grants, loans, and work-study programs. Loans, whether you get them through the FAFSA or through a private lender, need to be paid back after you graduate. Grants are free money that do not need to be paid back. Work-study programs allow you to work for money that is put toward your college. Aside from FAFSA and loans, you may also be able to find scholarships. Some schools give merit scholarships based on previous semesters. If you are just starting college, you may be able to get scholarships from your high school or even your middle or elementary school. Apply for as many forms of aid, especially scholarships, so you can avoid as much debt in the future as possible.

Start as early as possible

No matter what kind of financial aid you are looking for, it is important to start early. Several types of scholarships are available online, but you have to take the time to find them and apply for them. Some scholarships may require certain things, such as letters of recommendation or certain amounts of volunteer hours. Give yourself enough time to gather all necessary materials, especially if you need letters of recommendation.

If you are still in high school, consider taking AP (Advanced Placement) courses. These courses are college-level classes that allow you to earn credits toward your degree. This is especially helpful if you take GenEd courses in high school and have them transfer into college credits. While you do have to pay for the AP test in order to receive college credit, it still costs less than a college course and will help save you money by not having to take as many classes in college.

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Talk to the financial aid office

While your school is making money by having students, there are resources in place for students. The financial aid office at your school wants you to be successful and graduate with as little debt as possible. Stop in to see what options are available for you and to see what they recommend for any financial aid you may have missed. They likely know about where to look for scholarships and how to get additional funding.

Limit your expenses

The best way to maximize your financial aid is to look to see where you can cut back on college expenses. For example, if you live within driving distance of your school or have access to public transportation, consider living at home while in college. This will help save money on dorm or rent as well as a food plan. Instead of buying new books, consider renting books for Gen-Eds that you will not need for your major and buy used books for books you may need down the line. Instead of eating out every night, cook at home and have leftovers when you can. If you are using public transportation to get to and from school, see if your town or city has some kind of student pass that you can purchase to help you save money.

Beware of scams

Be careful not to fall for any scams when applying for financial aid. As mentioned above, the FAFSA is a free application, but there are scam FAFSA applications that will look like the official application that will charge a fee. Along the same vein, do not fall into the trap of paying a fee when applying for scholarships. Scholarship search services that claim to apply for scholarships on your behalf are also scams, even if they do not charge a fee. Be on the lookout for other shady scams, such as open eligibility, guaranteed services, and first come, first served scholarships.

Maximizing your financial aid may take some work up-front, but you will be thanking yourself for the effort once you graduate with less debt than your peers.

It’s no secret that college costs a lot of money. Make sure your investment in higher education is protected with GradGuard. Our affordable tuition insurance and renters insurance plans are specifically designed for college students. Customizable plans make it easy to protect your tuition, room and board, laptop, bike, and so much more.

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