Top Secrets You Need to Know to Get the Most Money for College

For students, an acceptance letter to the college of their choice looks and smells a lot like freedom. For parents, that letter is more like a ball and chain. A moment of panic is bound to occur as you do the quick math in your head for your child’s four years of schooling. College costs are rising at about 6% year over year, according to Vanguard, which means 18 years from now a four-year trip to the hallowed halls of a private university could amount to nearly $500,000.

Unless you’re a descendant of Warren Buffett you’ll likely need some assistance in securing money for college. Some families say they make too much to qualify for financial aid. But tying yourself to loans are not your only option in this case.

Regardless of your financial scenario, you might be tempted to storm the financial aid office and beg for consideration. Don’t do it. There are better ways to handle securing more money for college. Here are eight ways to do it best.

1. Ask a college to match the aid you received at another institution

catching flying money

It’s possible to negotiate for some cash for your college tuition. | HBO

If you’re applying to similar schools close in rankings, it’s possible to engage in a little friendly negotiation to get more money for college. If one school offered you a better financial package than your first-choice school, you can use the better offer as leverage with your top pick.

Tommy Blair, financial aid director at Roanoke College, tells Time, “Show the college the cost they are up against: Here are my awards; here’s what it’s going to cost me to attend college X, Y and Z. I want to be at your school. Can you close the gap?” Remember schools are competing to attract the best students. Be sure to send the school all of your academic qualifications. These things are what will often place you higher on the financial aid ladder.

Next: Applying at a certain time of year is key.

2. Apply for aid in the summertime

woman smelling money

Late July and August are the perfect months to appeal your financial aid package. | iStock.com

Fastweb spilled the beans on a little-known secret about financial aid. Summer is the best time to apply for aid if you’re hoping to receive the most assistance possible. College admissions professionals use a phrase known as “summer melt” to describe the phenomenon that occurs around May 1, or the time when students change their minds about their final destinations and decline a college offer. These students forego their allocated financial aid and other scholarship packages, which, in turn, frees up additional money for other committed students.

In other words, summer is your time to pounce. Use these months to call the office and reiterate your interest in the university. And submit a request for a financial aid review.

Next: Another option for high-income families

3. Merit aid and financial aid are different

female college student

High-income families have options to score cheaper tuition. | iStock.com/Png-Studio

Just because you might not qualify for financial aid based on your household income level doesn’t mean you’re stuck paying for college tuition at full price. This just means you should set your sights on merit-based awards. These awards are available to prospective college students with shining academic histories.

U.S. News published a list of schools that offer the most merit aid to prospective students. Although the sticker shock of a private school often frightens many families, they’re often the schools with the most backing to fund significant merit aid. Merit-based scholarships are available to those with a range of academic and extracurricular strengths, such as athletic or artistic talents. Colleges discounted tuition at an average of 48.6% in the 2015-2016 school year for grant-based aid — almost half the advertised price of admission.

Next: Inside information on financial aid applications

4. Need-based aid favors reasonable and detailed applications

Failed test

Don’t be overly greedy in your request for assistance. | iStock.com/Tupungato

The secret to securing enough aid the first time around is to be thoughtful in your application process. The best financial applications are specific and detailed, rather than broad and generic. When drafting an appeal or writing an application cover letter, try to avoid general statements, such as, “I don’t make enough money to cover tuition.” Instead, provide numbers, facts, and personal experiences that have affected you and your family’s ability to fund higher education costs. This helps to ensure that you won’t have to spend as much time appealing a future offer that doesn’t meet your financial standards.

If you do have to appeal, don’t ask for the moon. Greed isn’t an attractive quality in a mate, and it’s equally unattractive to an admissions officer. Greedy applicants fare worse than reasonable requests because universities simply cannot afford to fund a full ride for every student.

Next: Choose a school likely to award you with money.

5. Choose a school where you’ll be a top student

woman sitting at table doing assignments in college library

You’re likely to get more money for college if you’re considered a top applicant at the school. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Many college hopefuls approach the selection process the wrong way. They identify schools with name recognition and a prestigious title first without ever considering the value that could be present elsewhere. But limiting your options could affect the amount of money for college you receive. Students could choose to attend a smaller school where their high school accomplishments shine brighter than the rest.

Joseph Orsolini, president of College Aid Planners, told U.S. News, “Ideally you want your student to be in the top 25% of a school’s student population. Those are the kids that get the money.” In other words, a 3.7 GPA at Yale might be considered subpar, yet it would be appreciated at another university. If you think you’d fall mid-pack at the school you can’t afford, it might be best to redirect your focus to a school where you’d be considered a top candidate — and thus highly favored for tuition assistance.

Next: Who should apply for aid

6. You don’t make too much money to qualify for aid

A group of friends raise their glasses in a toast

Cheers! Everyone qualifies for some type of aid. | Netflix

Some families completely overlook financial aid applications because they think they make too much money to qualify for assistance. Edvisors says every student should file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. For one, this form is a prerequisite for federal student loans, such as Direct Unsubsidized and Grad PLUS loans, that have nothing to do with income levels.

Also, aid eligibility is based on specific college costs and how many children families are putting through college. The expected family contribution decreases as the number of children in college increases. One child could equate to a $30,000 contribution, whereas two enrolled children might drop that down to $15,000 — a number that could easily offset costs at some public universities. Unless parents earn more than $350,000 a year, have more than $1 million in reportable net assets, or have only one child in enrolled in a public college, they should still file the FAFSA to begin the application process.

Next: Honors programs could be the key to cheaper tuition.

7. Consider joining an honors program

hire me on grad cap

Honors programs are great resume boosters and sources of financial aid. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Many national universities that offer a full range of undergraduate majors and masters programs also employ honors programs to entice high-achieving students. Some schools will award students with additional scholarships and aid for the academic year or fund free trips to study abroad through programs. Scout out the schools that offer these programs. But every university program is different, so you’ll want to scour each website to find exactly how much aid you would qualify for at every institution.

Next: Tuition assistance based on attendance

8. Your course load and attendance could affect aid

young man smiles as he lounges on his stomach in bed

Skipping class could mean higher tuition fees. | iStock.com

Financial aid is usually awarded to students with a string of contingencies — some of which include attendance records and course loads. In an effort to discourage abuse of awarded aid, many schools will withdraw aid if a student doesn’t attend the first few classes or has a string of unexplained absences. Don’t get stuck attending a college you can’t afford. Anything that causes a student to drop below a full-time course load could result in revoked aid, which is hard to reinstate thereafter.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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