The average financial aid package is around $10,800, according to an August 2013 study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Depending on which school you plan to attend, that amount may not be enough to cover the gap between tuition costs and what your family can afford. So what do you do?
These seven tips can prepare you for negotiating your financial aid package and determining how to pay for college. Remember, the effort you put into figuring out the best way to pay for school today will decrease the debt you will pay off in the future.
1. Pay Attention to Deadlines
Before you can take any kind of action to negotiate your financial aid package, find out how much a school can offer you. This requires filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and whatever additional aid paperwork is needed for each school. Make sure to have all information turned in ahead of time. If it gets to the point where you think paperwork will reach a school after the due date, request an extension right away.
2. Check Accuracy of Numbers
As you turn in your applications, double check to make sure your family's financial information is completely and correctly included on all forms. An incorrectly placed decimal or number can result in an erroneous financial aid package. Taking the time to make sure your paperwork and financial situation is accurately communicated to the school will give you a starting point for making changes.
3. Comparison Shop
Prepare for negotiations by comparing the financial aid packages offered by different schools. Some colleges have a policy of matching another college's offering, while others will be swayed to change their offer if a student presents a counteroffer.
4. Appeal the Offer
If using an alternate financial aid package is not leverage enough, there may be other ways to appeal a school’s offer. For example, your family's circumstances may have changed and the school you apply to may agree to reassess your package based on income changes. You will likely make greater headway if you research to find your school's specific guidelines for appeals.
5. Think of Alternate Ways to Afford Tuition
Think outside the box as you consider how you will afford tuition. Your parents may have an annuity they could cash in to pay for school or you might have a sibling attending school next year. If you put off school for a year, you will get a better financial aid package since your parents will report that they are financing school for two children.
6. Report Senior Year Improvement
For those with average grades through most of high school, a marked improvement during your senior year can increase your eligibility for merit-based scholarships. Provide the financial aid offices of your chosen school with an official record of your new grade point average.
7. Make Your Own Work Study Package
Increase the funds to pay for your education by working on campus, even if your school doesn't offer you a work-study package. Look for on-campus postings or through your school's website for jobs that are not filled through the financial aid office. You may find that some of these positions offer a higher hourly rate than those the school sets you up with.
About the Author
Alanna Ritchie is a content writer for Debt.org, where she writes about personal finance and little smart ways to spend (and save) money. Alanna has an English degree from Rollins College. Follow our conversation on twitter debt.