12 Tips for Finding the Best Financial Aid

  1. Apply early for federal funding. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible after January 1st. Federal need-based scholarships and grants are limited. So apply as early as possible. Remember, you don’t need to have admission into a program to apply. Also, make sure that your application is accurate and complete. If the application is returned to you for corrections, you will lose valuable time.

  2. Apply for non-federal funding as well. Some of the resources for state funding and private school funding are –

  3. Look for grants associated with affiliations. For instance, scholarships are provided for certain ethnicities such as African American, Hispanic, Native American, etc. Certain scholarships may also be available for members of various religious organizations. Financial aid is also available for military veterans.

  4. If you qualify, seek grants set aside for disabled persons. Check out page 15 of this document for a list of organizations that offer disability-specific scholarships.

  5. Look for non-conventional grants. There are a lot of grants set aside for minorities, international students, single parents, adults going back-to-school etc. Look out for any opportunities for distinguishing yourself from the crowd. This increases your chances of obtaining the funding. (I know, because I received a $25K grant, for one year of my Ph.D. using this method! Since it was a grant and not a loan, I avoided a lot of debt too.)

  6. Look for assistantships. These come in several flavors such as teaching assistantship, research assistantship or non-teaching assistantship. They involve up to 20 hours per week in assisting professors with their research, preparing teaching material, grading assignments, conducting labs and proctoring exams. Generally, graduate students are given preference for these positions, but some undergrads may qualify too. (The remaining years of my MS and Ph.D. were funded using these means.)

  7. If possible use Hope Scholarship Credit (up to $1,500 per year) and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (up to $1,000 per year). For more information, see the IRS guidelines for Tax Breaks for Education.

  8. Check if you qualify for tuition assistance programs with your parent’s employers. (If anybody has more information on this, will you please share it with us? Thanks.)

  9. Send the financial aid application, even if it a little late.Schools with rolling admissions may distribute aid in a rolling fashion as well. So, even if it is late, send that application.

  10. Don’t make any assumptions. Apply for the FAFSA even if you are think you do not qualify for need-based scholarship. There may be some tax rules unknown to you that might just qualify you. Also, some schools use the same application for awarding merit-based scholarships too. You have nothing to lose.

  11. Don’t give up. If you were turned down or were offered lower funding than what you expected, don’t give up. Contact the financial aid officers and explain your circumstances. Maybe they will re-consider. Again, you have nothing to lose.

  12. Beware of imposters and scammers! For instance the commercial website fafsa.com charges $80 to help complete the application that is freely available at fafsa.ed.gov!

Resources used for preparing this list:

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