Top 5 Tips to Get Cash for College

Two billion dollars is an abundance of cash by anyone’s standards, yet that’s the amount of free money students leave on the table each year in unclaimed federal grants. If you are a student (or the parent of one) thinking about applying for or returning to college, you need to know how to elevate your opportunities to get your hands on some of that funding, and maybe even more! Here are five things you need to know to maximize your chances.

TIP #1: Never assume you aren’t eligible.

Don’t assume your income excludes you from federal, state, or institutional grants and scholarships. Many institutions require the FAFSA for consideration of both non-need-based aid, such as merit scholarships, as well as need-based aid, such as the federal Pell grant. Don’t leave cash on the table because you THINK you won’t qualify. Free to fill out, the FAFSA is worth your time to complete, and it’s easier than you may think.

Think of the FAFSA as the key to a vault filled with cash for college. You can’t access the cash without the key, whether it’s to pocket federal grants, institutional scholarships, or secure affordable federal student loans. The key provides you access and choices but doesn’t commit you to anything.

Take the time to apply now.

TIP #2: Be prepared.

Save yourself from frustration and prepare all the necessary documents and information before you complete the form. You’ll need to create a Federal Student Aid ID (also called an FSA ID) before you begin, so make sure you (and one of your parents, if you are under the age of 24) have taken that step prior to beginning the FAFSA. An FSA ID acts as an electronic signature, so it can’t be shared. For each person completing the FSA ID and FAFSA, you’ll need:

  • Driver’s license number
  • Social Security Number
  • Alien Registration Card (if you’re an eligible non-citizen)
  • 2019 Income information (taxable and untaxed)

There may be additional items needed along the way, but this is a great start.

TIP #3: Submit your FAFSA now.

The FAFSA for the 2021-2022 school year opened last October 1, 2020. Since some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, you’ll want to submit your FAFSA right away to secure all the funding you’re eligible for. Don’t leave cash on the table by delaying the application process!

In addition to getting the largest share of funding, you also want to file early to get the largest share of the financial aid office’s attention! You may have questions about your options, and the college financial aid office provides answers and support as you navigate the process. Keep in mind that the closer it is to the start of a semester, the busier the financial aid office becomes. File your FAFSA now and avoid the rush.

TIP #4: Reach out.

For many students, filing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships is a simple and straightforward process. Other students (and often parents) may want additional support or have questions about the FAFSA, the types of aid available, or even the admissions and registration process. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your financial aid office – they have experienced experts available to provide the information you need and lend a hand in navigating the process. 

TIP #5: Speak up.

If the information you include on your FAFSA no longer reflects the financial situation of your household, reach out to the financial aid office. For many students and families, 2020 wreaked havoc on the family’s finances and, unfortunately, the loss of income isn’t recognized on the FAFSA because the 2021-2022 FAFSA is based on 2019 income tax information. If your household suffered a significant loss of income in 2020 and you can document it, the financial aid office at your school may be able to walk you through a process to secure additional funding. Reach out and speak up about your situation. Financial aid offices are here to help.

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Jody Walker is the director of Student Financial Aid at FSW.