This post may contain affiliate links. Click here to read my full disclosure.
By now, it’s well known that a college education can be worth over $1 million in extra earnings over a career. But did you know that you could receive thousands in free financial aid to help you finish a degree?
You could qualify for up to $6,195*. Tap here to visit MyDegree.com and get matched to schools in your area.
There’s no need to wait for an acceptance letter to start securing financial aid. In fact, we suggest you start exploring options ASAP. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss out on some of the golden opportunities for college money, would you?
Let’s look at 10 secrets about free financial aid for college:
Secret #1: Complete Your FAFSA Early and Often
Unlike in recent years, you can now start completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid earlier than ever before. And since financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, you maximize your chances by getting it done early.
Click here to get matched to a school in your area and discuss qualifying for aid with a representative.
As another advantage, given that FAFSA factors in your tax returns, you might benefit from completing your application as early as possible.
Depending on your financial situation and how your circumstances have changed over the past year or two, it could mean a big difference in your final award amount.
FAFSA is the first step in determining your qualification status for financial aid provided by the US government.
Through FAFSA, over $150 billion has been awarded to students in the form of grants, loans, and work-study arrangements.
Your school will be able to use the information from your FAFSA to put together your financial aid offer.
The next few secrets all hinge on the completion of your FAFSA, so make it a priority!
Secret #2: Federal Pell Grants – Visit MyDegree.com for more information
This is the largest educational funding program provided by the US government. It can be applied for Bachelor’s, Masters, or other professional degrees.
Even vocational schools or certain job training programs may be eligible for Pell Grant funding. As of this writing, you could receive up to $6,195 toward your college expenses, if you qualify.
Best of all, this money doesn’t have to cover tuition only – it can be used on many other categories, including living expenses, transportation costs, dependent care, or other miscellaneous personal expenses. You can see what all is covered on the Student Aid site.
Secret #3: The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
Under the FSEOG program, undergraduate college students with exceptional financial need are awarded money which they do not need to pay back. To satisfy its requirements, applicants must:
- Have a valid SSN assigned only to legal U.S. citizens
- Fill out the FAFSA form, which puts them in the running for all federal student aid programs
- Provide proof of substantial financial need
- Pick an accredited college/school to apply to
The amount of money in the FSEOG program, unlike the Pell Grant, is limited and varies on a school to school basis.
As a tip, list several schools and not just one when applying for FSEOG. Here’s why: if approved, you will get a letter from different institutions with different FSEOG amounts.
Multiple choices mean you will have some wiggle room for negotiations.
Let’s say your first choice intends to award you with a lower FSEOG, you can then leverage a higher number from a different letter to help get it increased.
Secret #4: TEACH Grants for Those With Education Focus
An acronym for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, this grant program targets those students who plan to enter an education career and begin teaching for a period of 4 years.
You can choose whether you want to work at an elementary school, middle school, high school, or an educational agency facility that caters to low-income families.
Before you can receive a TEACH grant, you must first complete the initial and subsequent counseling process, as well as an Agreement to Serve.
Keep in mind that these steps are repeated for every year you wish to receive a TEACH grant.
Secret #5: The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant for Children of our Nation’s Heroes
If you have a parent or guardian who died in military service related to US conflicts in the Middle East (specifically, Iraq or Afghanistan) after September 11, 2001, you may be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant funding.
Note that you must have been under the age of 24 or enrolled in a college or career school at least part-time at the time of your parent or guardian’s death, to qualify.
Be sure to check out other programs to get money for school in light of you or your family’s military service.
Secret #6: Take Steps to Optimize Your EFC Calculation
Regardless of what you’ve heard or read, you are never truly out of the running for financial aid. Instead of asking where the income cutoff for financial aid is, get creative!
Some programs may have criteria to meet, but there is no cutoff point for education funding! How do you figure that, you ask? Well, like this!
4 main factors make up the EFC:
- Family size
- Number of offspring in college
- Total income
What does this mean? If any of these factors change, your resulting EFC will too.
Moreover, if you’re applying to an expensive college, the EFC becomes much higher. So, you may still qualify for aid whereas you might not with a less expensive college.
When you fill out the FAFSA/CSS Profile forms, you must declare specific assets. If you or your parents’ asset load is high, you may not qualify for financial aid. The secret here lies in looking for ways that can help you tweak the total.
One way to do this is by accelerating the spending on necessary expenses. Say, your roof is leaking and needs major repairs quickly.
Pay to have this repaired prior to filling out your scholarship forms. Any expenses that your family needs to satisfy, even new cars or a house, will assist in load-shifting.
Consider some other tasks to take care of:
- Paying for an SAT or ACT test prep class
- Buying a computer for schoolwork
- Getting a dorm refrigerator, couch, or microwave
- Spending on a car that you can commute to college in
The logic behind this move is that certain pieces of personal property like cars, furniture, computers, books, appliances, boats, and clothing don’t have to be reported as assets on the FAFSA form.
If you make these purchases before you apply for financial aid, you may reduce reportable assets. That, in turn, decreases the EFC.
The same is true for any home maintenance expenses you carry out. FAFSA has nothing to do with your family’s principal residence and its net worth.
Another idea here would be to make a charitable contribution.
Secret #7: Think Twice About Working on Campus
Work-Study programs are operated by the federal government to help students earn money or offset costs for school.
This may seem like an attractive option and some students may consider getting an on-campus job, like Resident Advisor.
Along with the pay, employment often comes with free room and/or board as well. While this may be a good step towards maturity, be aware of some unintended consequences.
Any financial aid awarded to you that factors in the EFC or is loan-based, will look at the income of all household members.
Thus, accepting a position like this, could alter your total university bill. For instance, some programs will count the money earned through work-study and use it to decrease the awarded aid amount students had received before.
The money you earn won’t help you if it’s added to your EFC. This is seen as your need for financial aid as not being too serious and may keep you from qualifying for certain programs.
Secret #8: Know What Factors Impact Your Financial Aid Qualifications
An on-campus job isn’t the only thing that can affect your qualifications for financial aid.
There are others, and consulting a financial aid expert or the financial aid offices at your school, are two great resources that can help you better understand them all.
In any case, you can ask them to guide you towards how a sponsor would calculate EFC, as well as clarify and identify any financial aid myths. Consider these examples that frequently confuse funding applicants:
- Home equity does not end up on the list of assets – This is true. Along with the assets of businesses with fewer than 100 employees, the value of your primary residence is not a factor.
- A retirement account does not end up on the list of assets – The account balance is not factored, however, future contributions are. If you or your parents contribute to a 401k at work, or other retirement accounts like an IRA, the money already in those accounts cannot be touched. They do not factor into your list of assets. BUT, if you plan on contributing, for example, $5,000 of income the following year, your calculation will still reflect that amount as an asset since it’s not already in the account.
- Only 20% of a student’s assets will be considered available – If you are a dependent student or an independent student with no children or dependents of your own, this is true. However, if you have children or dependents of your own, this rate can be lower.
- The percentage is 5.6% for the assets of a parent – Again, this can vary based on your unique situation.
Likewise, should your grandparents want to help you out with tuition, there is a smart way of doing that. If they issue a loan to you rather than cash, it won’t count as a gift. Thus, it won’t affect your EFC.
Secret #9: Target the Right Schools
The most selective colleges will have strict conditions for their applicant pools. Yes, they’re offering merit-based aid as an incentive but, what are you bringing to the pool to be considered?
For example, if you apply to a highly selective school and are currently ranked within the 75th percentile for GPA/class rank/ACT/SAT scores, you may only end up ranking within the 25th percentile among other applicants due to their GPA/class rank/ACT/SAT scores, having a higher average.
Thus, getting into such a school will only be possible if you possess some other rarer, more valuable skill. That makes things challenging when the cost of attendance is in the $70,000 range.
Now, if you turn your attention to another school that isn’t quite as selective, you may be exactly the kind of applicant that school is looking for.
They may even be willing to be more generous with their merit aid packages to lure you away from competitors.
Secret # 10: It’s All About “Location, Location, Location”
Most brick-and-mortar colleges envision their student body being made up of people from all over.
They sincerely believe that bringing students together from all over the country will lead to a more rich, diverse college experience for everyone.
However, there is also a need for these institutions of higher learning to be able to boast about diversity. Who wouldn’t want to print that information on all of their flyers? But, what does this mean for you?
It gives you the edge you need to benefit from an admissions standpoint.
For example, a college in Pennsylvania only has two students from out-of-state in their freshman class.
That college and others may prioritize your out-of-state application – whether on a merit or financial aid basis – all in the name of geographic diversity.
Remote spots, such as Idaho, Montana, or North Dakota, will have a chance to send their students to more populated state colleges.
So, if you hail from a similar region, you may be able to expect help in both admissions and financial aid processes.
Therefore, don’t forget to include your geographic desirability onto the list of merit aid award-winning factors. Then, target schools far away from home to parley it into success.
With these free financial aid secrets, you are now prepared to make better choices for yourself and your future.
Remember, the sooner you start looking for options, and the more planning you put into the process, the better!
An easy way to begin is by calling that counselor as it is likely time for a sit-down. MyDegree.com is also an excellent aid in finding the best fit for you and providing financial aid guidance.
Don’t fret, take the time to understand all the myths and search out the money that’s out there just waiting for you!
I’ve done all the things! Girl, I’ve washed my face. I’ve trashed everything that doesn’t spark joy. I’ve walked the baby steps. I’ve cried. I’ve prayed, but my perfectionism has really held me back.
Perfection Hangover can be crippling. Stop comparing yourself to others and start living your best life! That’s why PH exists! I want to encourage you to take control of your money, your blog, and your business.