With the COVID-19 pandemic having taken a huge financial toll on many hard-working Americans, the upcoming academic year will prove to be challenging for many college students and parents alike. Shelling out thousands of dollars (or more) to attend school is difficult enough under "normal" circumstances, after all.
The good news? There are plenty of opportunities for financial aid available. From school-sponsored scholarships to Federal grants and everything in between, knowing how to take advantage of the resources available to you can make paying for school easier on your wallet.
Take Advantage of the "Summer Melt"
One of the biggest "secrets" to maximizing your financial aid package is to take advantage of a phenomenon known as the "Summer Melt." This refers to the time around the end of May when many students who have already committed to a particular school/college change their minds and either choose to attend a different school or drop out altogether.
When this occurs, any financial aid money that was allocated to these students becomes freed up, creating the perfect opportunity for prospective students to bolster their own financial aid packages.
The best way to take advantage of the Summer Melt? Contact your school's financial aid office directly during the mid-summer months (ideally around late June or early July). This is usually around the time that most students who have changed their minds have formally withdrawn from the school. From there, the financial aid that was allocated to them has recently been freed back up and schools may be more willing to work with you.
Specifically, you'll want to ask if there are any new financial aid opportunities available for you, whether it be more scholarship money or even a grant that you won't have to pay back. If you're already taking out student loans, it's possible that you may be able to take out a larger subsidized loan than you originally qualified for (which will save you from accumulating interest while you're in school).
More Tips to Maximize Your Financial Aid
In addition to taking advantage of the so-called Summer Melt, there are some other steps you can take to maximize your financial aid and minimize your out-of-pocket expenses this school year. Start by exploring new scholarship opportunities as they become available. Aside from the scholarships offered by your school directly, there are all kinds of private scholarships that you could be eligible for and that can add up quickly. Some of these will require you to write a short essay, while others may only require you to fill out your contact information to apply.
You'll also want to make sure that you're taking advantage of any grants for which you qualify. Like scholarships, grants are money that you don't have to pay back. One of the best ways to determine your eligibility for grants is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you haven't done this already, check your school's FAFSA application deadline; if it hasn't already passed, complete your FAFSA as soon as possible!
The Final Word on Paying for College
It's no secret that paying for college can be difficult for students and parents alike. Fortunately, there are all kinds of resources available (from grants and scholarships to low-interest loans and subsidized loans) to make paying for school a little easier. At the end of the day, it's also important to remember that a college degree can pay off many times over by helping you land a stable and well-paying job after graduation!