How You Can Increase Your Financial Aid Package

March 23, 2012

Spring time creates a lot of stress for families who are trying to get financial aid. There are a lot of deadlines, including the major deadline for FAFSA. Parents who are also working with high school seniors have to deal with the stress from their children finally graduating and moving on to college. However, one of the most important things to do during this time is compare financial aid packages from different colleges, which should be given to you with an acceptance letter. Statistics are showing that financial aid is lower this year, so parents are nervous about how much they'll have to pay out of pocket and students are also considering borrowing more. As you receive a financial aid letter, you need to look for a few things and possibly make a decision based on what school will pay more.

The Total Cost

What is the total cost of attendance for your program? You should find this number on the school's website or in the financial aid package itself. This number includes tuition, room, fees, books, and living expenses. You should then subtract the amount of financial aid that you've been awarded from this total and see what the initial out of pocket expenses will be. If you have loans included in the package, then you should also consider what amounts you'll eventually owe.

Figuring Out Repayment

Colleges get a little sneaky sometimes with how they word financial aid package letters and where they place numbers. You need to make sure that you separate out the loans from other money, like grants and scholarships. Loans aren't free money, and you'll need to repay what you borrow. You need to pay attention to your student debt throughout your college career if you are planning on taking out any kind of loans. You also want to look for what will be renewed and what won't be renewed. For example, a scholarship this year may not count next year. You don't want to come out of college with more than $50,000 in debt, particularly if your college costs were much lower than that. Typically, you can take out loan amounts for $10,000 a year. Through subsidized federal loans, you can also cut the cost of interests and have more repayment options. You can sign up for subsidized loans through your FAFSA or by talking to a financial aid advisor. The terms of the loan should be given to you once you accept the loan amount. You can find the interest and decide then whether to reduce or cancel your acceptance.

Appealing the Package

If the package really isn't enough and you can't cover the out of pocket, then you can appeal. Colleges actually reserve 10 to 15 percent of their financial aid funds for people who appeal. You can call the financial aid office at your college and ask about an appeal process, or look online through the college's website for a form and how to appeal. You will likely have to write a letter outlining the reasons for the appeal and what the money is for, and you also have to provide more documentation to determine your eligibility. Colleges may come back with more money in this instance, but it won't be the full amount that you request in the appeal.

Work Study Programs

Besides loans, scholarships and merit awards, there's grants, but students can also pick up a work study job. Normally, these are reserved specifically for those who are low income but your college may offer work study programs for any student who applies and is approved through the financial aid office. These jobs are typically only 10 to 25 hours a week and allow you to work at $8 an hour towards your financial aid. It's a good chunk of money to add to what you already have been awarded.

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