NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With college costs rising higher than the rate of inflation, paying for higher education is becoming harder than ever. Thankfully, there are measures in place to assuage the pain for students and their families, especially as we head into the back to school season.
From filling out the all important FAFSA form to finding scholarships, we polled experts and financial aid officers to share their top tips.
1. Remember, FAFSA is free
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and should be filled out only at fafsa.ed.gov. "Do not complete it at fafsa.com or other commercial sites that charges money – it’s called the free Application for a reason," advises Vince Frank, director of financial aid at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
2. Yes, you should follow the form's directions
It sounds like a non-issue, but college financial aid officers tell us mistakes on FAFSA are common and can end up costing students and their families to lose out on aid.
"An example of this is on the worksheet required of students that are selected for verification. The applicant is asked to 'list the people in your parents’ household, including yourself, your parents and your parents’ other children.’ The chart provided asks for age, relationship and college attended for each household member. Applicants often include only those members of their household that attended college because they do not read the instructions but rather look at the columns provided in the chart," says Tim Dawson, director of admissions and enrollment systems at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
3. FAFSA: Custodial parent's household
When filling out the form, it's important to keep in mind how the info you provide is based on your custodial parent's household. "FAFSA is completed on the basis of the biological parent with whom the student lived the greater portion of the 12 months prior to FAFSA completion," says Ed Irish, director of financial aid at the College of William and Mary. "If the student lived equal time with both biological parents, the parent who provided the greater amount of financial support should be listed.”