An Unconventional Guide to Paying for College

What the Financial Aid Office is NOT Telling You

One of the biggest problems that occurs in any financial aid office around the country is their inability to effectively communicate with students. Financial aid information can be complex, deadlines can be rigorous, and to most college students, finding money for college is incredibly boring (although incredibly important as well).
So this creates a problem. College students desperately need to hear this information, but they don’t want to listen, and financial aid offices do not know how to effectively reach out.

As a student or a parent, this creates a very specific opportunity for you. Since the burden of discovery is placed squarely on your shoulders, the more effort you put into seeking financial aid information, the more reward you will receive.

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze

As with most things in life, financial aid comes to those who hustle. By hustle, I don’t mean anything seedy, I simply mean that the more effort you put into your financial aid, the more benefit you will receive.

The more scholarships you apply for, the more likely you are to win one.

The earlier you submit your FAFSA the more federal grant money you will qualify for.

The harder you work at your academics and the more clubs you are involved with, the more likely you are to earn a scholarship or school grant.

The more you communicate with the financial aid office, the more chances you have of finding new sources of aid that you did not realize existed.

Financial aid is often used as a reactionary office. What I mean by that is students never come through their door unless they need something or something is wrong. Very rarely does a student come through to ask about what they can be doing proactively to earn more financial aid for the next year.

This simply does not happen. However, I almost guarantee you that a financial aid counselor’s face will light up if you do go into their office and ask that question.

The more work and effort you put into making sure you are receiving the absolute maximum amount of financial aid, the more you will earn in return.

College Students Don’t Answer Their Phones

College students are a difficult bunch to communicate with. With modern technology, the majority of students have access to email and the internet from their smart phones. This means that email, social media, and other electronic messaging formats are the best way to communicate with students. This is true, but their effectiveness is still very slim.

Why is that?

The majority of college students rely on their parents to handle all of their college finances, and they will either forward or disregard an email from the financial aid office. This simple action could be very costly, especially when there are strict deadlines involved.

If you receive a communication from the financial aid office, you should read it.  I guarantee it is important. Financial aid offices have too much to do to send out frivolous messages.

The sooner you react to the message that you receive, the sooner you can receive a positive outcome from it. Also, it could never hurt to suggest better ways of communicating with you to your financial aid office. This is an ongoing problem, so they will likely listen attentively to any suggestions you have.

Final Words of Wisdom

Here are a few final tips that will help you in your questing of finding money for college.

  • Always adhere to deadlines. You might take this step for granted, but missing an important priority date or deadline, could potentially cost you thousands of dollars in financial aid. Many awards are given out on a first-come first-served basis, so it is always good to get your application completed as early as possible.
  • Be Accurate. When filling out financial aid forms, it is critical that you are accurate. One misplaced number in a social security number, or an extra zero on an income could throw off your entire application and potentially forfeit thousands of dollars in aid. It might not sound ethical, but applications that need corrections or revisions, generally miss out on the first round of financial aid awards.
  • Be Aggressive! Please remember that this is the financial future of your student on the line. Financial aid offices are renowned for giving people the run around, and for not going “above and beyond” to assist a student. Like J.D. Roth always says, you are the only person that has your best interest in mind. That means the responsibility falls on you to ask the right questions, and ensure that you receive every scrap of financial aid that you are eligible for.
  • Find a Friend. I highly recommend trying to make friends with a financial aid counselor at your college. They see lots of students every day, but if you are able to develop a personal relationship with your counselor, they are much more likely to go out of their way to assist you.
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6 Comments

  1. I think it would be ever so helpful if financial aid officers held seminars for high school seniors or juniors on these points. Especially about applying for grants and scholarships and how with just a few easy steps you could have access to a little (or a lot of) extra money. I think if parents encouraged their kids to get involved in their student finances, there would be more proactive responses instead of reactive.
    Little House recently posted..Small Spaces by IkeaMy Profile

    • @Little House — You are on to a great point. I know that many financial aid offices do hold seminars during Financial Aid Awareness Month in February, but even then, they cannot reach all schools. I think it would be beneficial to have a full time financial aid counselor at every high school, to help the students with the financial transition, as well as the academic.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. Case in point, we had a scholarship contest on our site. We tried to give away a hundred bucks, and got one entry!
    My University Money recently posted..What Other Bloggers Are Saying #17My Profile

    • Oh wow. Yeah that really is depressing. I would love to know more about your scholarship contest. Was it sponsored by a company? Or was it from your own funds. I love the idea.

  3. I know that applying early makes all the difference. I have talked with workers from the FIN AID office at the university I work for, and they have told me multiple stories of people who lose 10’s of thousands of dollars because they applied too late. So sad.
    20’s Finances recently posted..5 Ways to Cut Costs – Week 7My Profile

  4. @20’s FInances — It really is sad. My goal for this blog is to get the information out to students and parents, and help them avoid something like that ever happening to them!
    STRONGside recently posted..What the Financial Aid Office is NOT Telling YouMy Profile

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