Paying For College

It's that time of year; the college acceptance letters - and rejections - have started rolling in. Getting into college is hard enough, but what about paying for it? Ray Hennessey, Editor of SmartMoney.com, has some tips on getting the financial aid you need.

The first step, according to Hennessey, is to apply for financial aid. "Everybody, regardless of their income, should be applying," says Hennessey. When you fill out the financial aid forms, be specific. If someone in your family is suffering from an illness, or if your family members are unemployed, write it down. "Financial aid forms are very generic," says Hennessey. Financial aid officials only see what you put down on the form, so they may be more likely to give you additional aid if you have extenuating circumstances.

Once you receive your financial aid package from your college or university, be sure to look it over thoroughly. If it's not as much money as you think it should be, you can appeal. But according to Hennessey, it's best to do those appeals in person. "It's so much better than an email or a phone call," says Hennessey. "When you're there, sitting across the table, it's so difficult to say 'no.'"

Don't let your schools location deter you from appealing in person. "I think that's even better," says Hennessey. "Then you're showing them... 'I'm flying across the country to sit here and tell you [how much it means to me].'"

It's also important to check back with the school in late summer regarding your financial aid package. "A lot of people they've given money to have decided to go to another school," says Hennessey. Suddenly, there's more money sitting around than there was earlier in the year, and the college or university may be willing to increase your package.

There are other things you can do to help offset the cost of college too. Start saving early and consider investing in a 529 college savings plan. If you begin saving as soon as your child is born, "You can probably minimize a big chunk that you'll have to pay," says Hennessey. Keep in mind, though, that 529 savings plans work against you when it comes to financial aid. "If you do save that money... don't expect to be getting a lot of need-based aid because it's part of the assets they consider," says Hennessey.

For more information on saving for college, as well as other personal financial advice, click here.


By Erin Petrun
  • Erin Petrun

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