Financial Aid

How to Maximize Financial Aid

Tips include apply on time, submit the correct applications, update your colleges with changes, comply with Verification, and submit separate applications for merit aid
Man using laptop in office

We're often asked by families how you can maximize your chances for financial aid. And while a lot of that decision is out of your control, there are certainly steps you can take to help ensure you're getting the most financial aid possible. We offer five key tips below.

1. Apply on time

We can't stress this enough. Do not be late with your financial aid applications. Even a day or two of tardiness can cost your family thousands of dollars in grant funding. Set reminders, carve out time in your schedule, and make sure you submit all required applications on time. And that leads us to...

2. Submit the correct applications

Every college requires the FAFSA®, so make sure you send it to each one by listing all of your schools on your FAFSA's college list. In addition, some schools may require the CSS ProfileTM, a secondary financial aid application, so make sure you submit that to all applicable colleges. You can check each school's financial aid website to find out your required applications and deadlines (see #1!)

3. Update your colleges with changes

If anything changes in your household or financial situation after you submit your financial aid applications (such as a job loss, cut in your salary, or major expense), be sure to let each college know by sending them a letter or email with any relevant documentation. As well, if there's something significant in your finances that you feel isn't reflected in your applications, you can pass that information on to the schools too. That might include a recent dip in your income or the support you offer to family members outside the household.

4. Comply with Verification

Verification is a process conducted by financial aid offices, in which they require additional documentation and/or information from student applicants. If your family is chosen to participate (and literally millions are selected), make sure you comply with all requests as soon as possible. You may need to send in tax forms, verify asset totals, or submit addition household member information). The student will likely receive an email with all Verification requests.

5. Submit separate applications for merit aid

Most financial aid is awarded based on your family's finances, but some schools also offer merit aid, scholarships given to students based on their applications for admission, or some other talent or skill (think athletic and music scholarships). Sometimes merit aid requires a totally separate application, so check in with the admissions and financial aid office at every college to see what's available, and submit all required forms on time.

If you're not yet too familiar with the financial aid process, start with our Financial Aid 101 webinar. It provides a full overview the applications required, the different types of financial aid, and how colleges determine your financial aid offer. You can watch it online anytime.