You’ve got the grades. You’ve got the SAT scores. You’ve even gotten your acceptance letter. Now the only thing standing between you and your first year of college is the massive tuition bill. Thankfully Uncle Sam may be able to help you out. Providing more than $150 billion in student aid each year, the U.S. federal government is the number-one source of financial aid in the country. To get your hands on a slice of the money pie, start by grabbing a FAFSA—Free Application for Federal Student Aid—form at www.fafsa.ed.gov and follow these tips:
Submit Accurately and Submit Early
The deadline may read June 30, but those looking for the biggest check will submit their FAFSA application as close to January 1 as they can. Since many federal aid awards, including Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis, early birds have a distinct advantage over those who wait until the last minute. Unfortunately, many families miss out on early cash simply because they haven’t yet filed their tax returns. The solution? Fill in the numbers you can and guess on the rest. Once you get all the necessary forms and complete your tax return, you can file a FAFSA correction if needed.
Coordinate Your Family
The vast majority of federal financial aid is handed out based on need—how high your college expenses are versus your family’s annual income and savings. While many families can’t suddenly raise their income level to pay for college, many can raise their aid eligibility simply by putting multiple students through school at once. If mom, dad, or any of your siblings are considering getting a degree, doing so in sync with your college years could result in a fatter check for everyone.
Remember to Reapply
To keep the aid money flowing in, you’ve got to fill out FAFSA every year for your entire college tenure. According to the National Association of College Financial Aid Administrators, more than 1.5 million students who would be eligible for federal aid miss out on their free money each year because they don’t apply.