5 Tips to Take Full Advantage of Your College’s Financial Aid Office

Real Advice from a Real Financial Aid Officer

This is a guest post by Jesse Parker. Jesse is the Director of Student Resources & Financial Aid at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He has completed an MDiv in Christian Ministry from Southeastern and is in the process of obtaining a Th.M in Ethics. He and his wife, Katy, have been married for four years and just had their first child, Charlotte Lynne Parker.

Pursuing higher education is a massive undertaking with serious financial commitments. However, with proper financial planning and the assistance of financial aid, affording school is not only possible but it can be done without undue burden. Consider these five tips as you get started.

  1. Begin Early. Begin the process of researching financial aid 9-12 months before you plan on starting school. Be sure to explore possible sources of financial aid that are not related to the institution you wish to attend. Look into a variety of sources for financial aid such as your local church/denomination, private organizations that may offer scholarships, your or your parent’s employer, scholarship search engines (such as FastWeb) as well as federal/state governments.
  1. Apply. The most important step is for you to apply! Though simple, this is the most crucial aspect of the financial aid process. Don’t just apply for financial aid at the school you plan on attending. Apply through the FAFSA for federal aid. Apply for local state aid. Apply to private organizations. Applying takes work, but diligence in applying can pay dividends.
  1. Know Your Net Price. Know the Total Cost of Attendance for the institution you wish to attend. This can include tuition, fees, books, rent, food, transportation, bills, and personal expenses. Once you’ve determine the Cost of Attendance, then calculate the Net Price (Cost of Attendance minus all sources of financial aid). Be cautious, as schools may provide a large amount of financial aid, but due to the institutions Cost of Attendance, the Net Price may still be high. Also be sure to consider how much the Cost of Attendance has increased in recent years as this will help anticipate what lies ahead.
  1. Know Your Options. Know your financial aid! Know whether your financial aid is a grant, scholarship, work-study, or many institutions will include loans in their financial aid packages. Also, know the particulars of your financial aid. Know what your financial aid covers. Whether it covers just tuition and fees or if it includes living expenses. Know of any GPA or other academic requirements that you have to maintain to keep your aid. Know of conditions for your financial aid. Know whether or not your financial aid is a gift or if you will have to pay it back. In this process ask lots of questions. Questions in this case are never a bad thing. A list of questions might be:
    • When are the deadlines?
    • When will I be notified of any awards?
    • What financial aid options are available to me?
    • Do I have to renew my scholarship every year or do I keep it for my whole degree?
    • What stipulations and eligibility requirements come with my financial aid?
    • How might my financial aid change year to year?
  1. Understand what you bring to the table. Often times what you can bring to the table makes all the difference in your ability to afford college. Creating a budget and financial planning can help set aside additional funds you can put towards school. Full or part time jobs might provide the additional finances that you need. Additionally working during major breaks can provide a large amount of funds for school as well.

Choosing a college to attend can be an exciting process. However, paying for college can be stressful. With some financial planning and a little work, paying for college is not only less stressful but well within your financial reach.

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