College in America is off-the-charts ridiculous when it comes to cost, and financial aid is a very common way of relieving some of the weight of college tuition. There are generally two types of financial aid for which you can apply.
Provided by the federal government, FAFSA stands for “free application for federal student aid.” FAFSA is the most commonly used form of financial aid. Basically, you input your financial and tax information from the year before and it calculates your EFC (expected family contribution.) Anyone applying to college for the 2018 school year will have to use information from 2 years ago.
Your family’s income, assets, size, and how many other family members are enrolled in college are used to calculate your EFC. Assets are basically just the items your family owns that are of value. This includes, but is not limited to, cars, houses, and money in savings accounts. If you have a savings account in your name, this will be considered an asset of your family’s in addition to their own savings. You can technically qualify for financial aid if your EFC is even a little bit below the school tuition. You can expect to receive more aid the lower your EFC is.
Institutions fund the second form of financial aid know as CSS. Only about 200 schools use it, including the Ivies, Georgia Tech, and UNC Chapel Hill. There is not a huge difference in the way these two different forms are filled out. The main difference is just where the money comes from. Using CSS allows very rich schools like the Ivies to give money where federal aid might not consider you eligible. If a school says they meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, they most likely use CSS.
How to Get More Financial Aid
The less money it looks like you have on paper, the better. Your family should consider the following to increase your eligibility for federal financial aid:
- Pay off as much debt as possible. Doing this makes it look like you have less money in your bank account, which qualifies you for more aid.
- Make any big purchases a year before the year of the taxes you’ll be using to file for financial aid. If you’re filing with 2015 taxes like I am, 2014-2015 before tax season would have been a good time to make a large purchase.
- Put more money into retirement. This works similarly to paying off debt. It will show less money in your regular bank account and these savings aren’t considered an asset that is used when calculating EFC.
- Avoid having a savings account for the child. Many people are of the opinion that it is better to prepare for college from birth and have a savings account, but unless your family is very affluent and can collect a very large amount of savings for you, it will only hurt you in trying to receive financial aid.