financial aid application process

Your child’s a high school senior.  Though your college savings are not what you’d like them to be, you’ve put away a bit over the years.  College applications are now done.  You’ve likely just submitted your FAFSA.  You breathe a tentative sigh of relief.  While the prospect of paying for college is still an overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable obstacle looming in your near future, you’ve done all you can do.  Aid applications have been submitted and the dice will fall as they may.  Things are out of your hands, right?

Not so fast!  Families have more control than they think over the college finance process, and there are plenty of things that you and your child can do now to help ease the impending burden of college payments and help make the college financing process a lot less stressful.  While you wait in financial aid limbo, here are five ways to find money for college after submitting the FAFSA:

  1. Update the FAFSA with tax information.  Now that you’ve received all of your W-2’s and 1099’s, it’s time to get your taxes done.  While you likely submitted your child’s FAFSA with estimated 2014 income information in order to meet the college’s aid application deadlines, once your 2014 tax returns are complete, you should log back into the FAFSA and update the numbers.  Many colleges will eventually request copies of your tax returns in order to confirm or revise tentative financial aid offers that they may have sent you.  If discrepancies exist between the estimated data you submitted and your actual tax information, aid adjustments may be required.  Update your FAFSA with accurate income data as soon as possible, so your first financial aid offer will be accurate.  This timeliness will avoid any unpleasant surprises (like reductions in financial aid) after you’ve already committed to a particular school.
  2. Send special circumstance letters to the Financial Aid Offices.  As you now know, the FAFSA asks you to report very limited financial data—not much more than your last year’s adjusted gross income, wages, taxes paid, balances of bank accounts, and investment totals.  For many families, this incomplete information paints an inaccurate picture of the family’s true financial circumstances.  Did you recently lose a job?  Are you paying high medical expenses or the private high school tuition of a younger child?  Are you supporting an elderly relative?  Or was last year’s income inflated by an unusual capital gain?  These types of circumstances are not asked about on the FAFSA, but can be taken into consideration at the discretion of each financial aid office.  If the FAFSA doesn’t tell your whole story, it’s up to you to do so—in writing to the aid offices.
  3. Search for scholarships online.  There are thousands of private scholarships out there from businesses, professional associations, non-profits, social clubs, and more.  Is your child a bakerVegetarianTrekkie?  If so, there’s a scholarship out there for her!   If you haven’t done so yet, now’s the time to do an online scholarship search.  Use scholarship sites like www.scholarships.com and/or simple web searches to find scholarships that best match your child’s profile.
  4. Search for community scholarships.  While the internet can be a great resource to track down scholarship funding from around the country, you can find lots of great scholarships right in your own backyard.  Check in with civic organizations in your town, last year’s graduating seniors, and the high school guidance counselor to uncover relevant community-based scholarship opportunities.  Remember, in comparison to a national scholarship advertised online, a community-based scholarship will have a much smaller applicant pool.  That means less competition and greater chances that your child actually wins the money!
  5. Work & save some money!  Finally, with college applications complete and more time on her hands, now’s a great time for your child to put in a few more hours at that after-school job to help supplement the family’s college savings.  Student earnings up to approximately $6,000 are protected from the financial aid formula, and as long as any savings are spent on the fall semester’s tuition and/or living expenses, there will be no student assets to report on next spring’s FAFSA application.

As you can see, while your FAFSA may have already been submitted, there is still plenty that you and your child can do right now to help find money for college.  Don’t waste this time worrying about the status of your applications and how much financial aid you will or won’t be offered.  Instead, get proactive!  Small efforts put forth now may pay big dividends when that first tuition bill comes due.



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Written by Shannon Vasconcelos
Shannon Vasconcelos is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, she was a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Tufts University and Boston University.