Financial aid options: How to make your college more affordable

For many graduating high school, financial aid is the only thing that makes going to college affordable. There’s never been a better time to apply for aid. 

Now more than ever, Dave Peterson, assistant vice provost at University of Cincinnati, is receiving questions from students and families about the deadline for financial aid and paying for college.

Is it too late for me to apply for more money for college? Will my family and I qualify for aid?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your single aid application to apply for all sources of institutional, state, and federal aid. It should be completed while going through the admissions process.

From there, here are some simple steps you can take to make the financial aid process as straightforward as possible.

Breaking it down: Misconceptions and missteps of financial aid

Before doing anything else, don’t make assumptions that you won’t be eligible for financial aid.

“There are students whose families have significant incomes who qualify, and those whose families have less income who don’t,” Peterson says. “You don’t necessarily need to be under a certain income level or be a minority to qualify for aid.”

If you’re a student with any intention of enrolling in the fall or the next academic year, Peterson highly encourages you to complete the FAFSA to gain more of an understanding of what federal financial aid may be available to you.

Make contact with financial aid counselors

You can fill out the FAFSA starting each October for the next academic year, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to apply now.

Peterson’s advice: Fill it out as soon as possible. With many schools pushing back decision deadlines, there may be a greater opportunity to get more money for your education. 

After filing the FAFSA, start talking to financial aid counselors at the colleges and universities in which you’re interested, to see where you stand.

“We like to have a relationship, and a name with a face,” Peterson says. If you know how much money you’re willing to pay out of your own pocket every year to go toward a degree, let the financial aid office know — they’ll tell you whether you’re on track, or if you might have to adjust your plans.

Talk it out

Peterson encourages parents to speak candidly about finances with their college-bound students to make sure everybody’s expectations are in sync.

“You may need to be flexible to make your college goals work out,” he says. That may mean taking on a roommate, living at home or even considering a different institution altogether if the finances don’t work out.

Exploring other financial aid options

Peterson offers four suggestions to keep the process manageable, and college more affordable:

1. Chase scholarships like it's your job

“We had a student this summer who didn’t pay a dime out of her pocket,” Peterson says. “She had seven different scholarships. She applied for more than 100 — but the ones she landed paid for her tuition.”

UC makes it easy to search for scholarships with this tool.

2. Grants are "free money"

Grants do not need to be paid back, but they are awarded based on need. In order to receive a grant, you must first be accepted into a degree program.

3. Low-interest student loans

Peterson stresses to always borrow federal student loans before seeking private loans. Once you've exhausted federal options, compare offers from multiple private lenders to find the lowest interest rate.

Loans do need to be repaid, which is why it’s important to borrow only what you need. You can review general loan repayment information available through the U.S. Department of Education.

4. Be prepared to do it all again.

Applying for aid is an annual process. And take heart — even if you don’t qualify for financial aid now, you may in the future.

Financial aid help

If you still have more questions regarding financial aid, please contact Enrollment Services at UC so they can help guide you through the process.