8 tools that can unearth college financial aid

How to Get College Financial Aid

by Kalman A. Chany

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  1. Assume you're eligible. Don't rule yourself out because of income or academics. And don't rule out a college because you think it's too expensive. The higher the cost, the more aid you may receive.

  2. Don't wait to be accepted to a college to apply for aid. The coffers may be empty by spring.

  3. Get application forms as soon as possible. You'll need the current federal FAFSA form. (Paper versions are freely available by late-December by calling 800-433-3243.) You may also need to complete the College Board's CSS PROFILE application, state aid forms, and forms provided by the colleges.

  4. Know the deadlines and be sure to meet each one. Many colleges have different deadlines for different forms. Some may be due in early January, though most are due mid January-March.

  5. Figure out your "expected family contribution." Use worksheets in financial aid guidebooks to calculate (before you apply) what the colleges will estimate you can afford to pay. Be sure to get up-to-date information as the rules and formulas change every year.

  6. Maximize your aid eligibility. Freshman year aid awards are based in part on income for the tax year ending December 31 of the student's senior year in high school. Consider also making appropriate adjustments to your assets, debts, and retirement provisions before you apply.

  7. Follow instructions carefully on the application forms. Common mistakes that can disqualify your applications are forgetting to sign them, leaving lines blank, and using the wrong academic year's version of the forms.

  8. Do your income tax forms early. To meet early aid application deadlines, you may need to do a draft version of your income tax return with estimated numbers.

From Paying For College Without Going Broke: 2012 Edition

Kalman A. Chany is the author of Paying For College Without Going Broke: 2012 Edition (Random House / Princeton Review). For more about the book, visit Randomhouse.com.

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