How to Get the Most Money From Your College

One big consideration in choosing a college, at least for most people, is how brutal a blow the bills will deal to the family finances. By following a smart strategy in applying for financial aid, you may encounter some pleasant surprises – like an offer from that pricey private college at the top of your wish list so generous that the school ends up being more of a bargain than the local state university.

Your first move in tapping Uncle Sam’s rich resources is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – better known as the FAFSA – as early as possible. The deadline for the 2019-2020 school year is June 30, but you can file the form as early as Oct. 1 of senior year. Colleges use the form to allocate their own money, too, and each school you’re applying to could have a different deadline, so it’s important to make sure you’re on top of the key dates.

The FAFSA crunches your family financial data and arrives at an amount it determines you can afford to pay. But multiple factors will come into play as schools assemble their aid packages and offer letters.

First, it’s helpful to know whether they are “need aware” or “need blind.” Admissions officers at need-blind colleges don’t have access to applicants’ financial data, meaning they’re making admission decisions based entirely on a student’s academic and other credentials. Schools that are need aware, on the other hand, may consider a family’s need for financial assistance in weighing candidates.