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How to Increase Your Financial Aid Package

Obtaining financial aid can be a tricky process. If you make a mistake while filling out the FAFSA or searching for scholarships, you could miss out on the money you need to pay for school. Here's what you need to know in order to increase your financial aid package.

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Fill Out the FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) should be the first step you take in the financial aid process. The information you enter on the FAFSA will have an impact on the amount of money you receive in federal and institutional grants. It will also affect your access to low-cost student loans. You can maximize your aid eligibility by keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Never assume that you will not qualify for aid. Be sure to fill out this free application for aid every year that you are in school.
  • Send in your application as soon as possible. Aid is usually awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Don't overstate your income. There are some assets you do not have to report. You can learn more about these exclusions by reading the form directions.
  • Explain any anticipated changes in your income. For example, if you're working full time this year, but don't expect to be able to as a student, telling the aid office that your income will change can significantly affect your award.
  • Fill out the entire form. If the answer to a question is zero, you'll need to write down zero. Don't leave any of the fields blank.
  • Make sure the information on the form is correct. Incorrect info, such as names, social security numbers and driver's license numbers, can cause a processing delay.
  • Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center for help. If you encounter difficulty understanding or answering any of the questions on the FAFSA, you can e-mail or call the center or use the live chat option available on the website.

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Search for Scholarships

Increase your potential to get more money for school by searching for scholarships. This step can be time consuming but it is an important part of the aid process. Since scholarships don't need to be paid back, the more money you obtain in scholarships, the easier it will be to fund your education pursuits. Here are a few strategies to help you find as many scholarships as possible:

  • Seek out professional groups and industry associations related to your major. Many of these organizations offer annual scholarship programs for students.
  • Contact local businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations. These agencies can provide you with information about potential scholarship opportunities for students in your area.
  • Work with your guidance counselor. Your counselor can help you learn more about available scholarships for which you may be eligible.
  • Utilize free scholarship search engines. These search engines are available through Federal Student Aid, CollegeBoard and other reputable sites.
  • Search the Internet. This is a good way to find scholarships and other academic awards that may not be listed with traditional sources.
  • Follow the instructions. Read through the scholarship's application instructions so that you don't miss any important information, and make sure you apply before the deadline.

Negotiate

If you are unhappy with the financial aid package you have been offered, you can negotiate with your school's aid office to receive more benefits. While it may seem odd to haggle over such an important thing, it is actually fairly common. In fact, there are some schools that offer low financial aid packages initially with the expectation that you will ask for more money. The following strategies will make it easier to negotiate successfully to get what you want:

  • Be friendly but firm. If you are polite yet assertive during the negotiations, you are more likely to get what you want.
  • Stay calm and reasonable. Losing your temper won't help your case.
  • Be prepared. Explain that you expected a larger financial aid package and provide a list of reasons why you think the school should give you more.
  • Present data. Use financial aid offers from competing schools to gain leverage in the negotiation.
  • Do not ask for more than you need. You should be fair, not greedy.
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