Financing a college education today requires creativity, tenacity and knowing how to navigate the financial aid maze. Here are ten tips to help you with the process and get you through the maze to the other side of paying for college:

1. EVERY family needs to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid); NO EXCEPTIONS!

2. Almost EVERY family qualifies for some type of aid even if it’s a federally backed loan at a very low interest rate.

3. The amount you are expected to pay (EFC-Expected Family Contribution) is the same at public or private institutions.

4. If you have a special family circumstance (medical bills, divorce, unemployment, etc.), these are not covered on financial aid forms, but you can talk to the Financial Aid officer and have your EFC adjusted.

5. If you’re not happy with your financial aid package, you can appeal and negotiate.

6. Keep your family assets in your name; putting them in your student’s name will be assessed at a MUCH higher rate.

7. If finances are an issue, don’t discount private universities; their aid packages can be much higher than state funded schools.

8. Freshman aid packages sometimes change; verify that the aid you receive as a freshman carries through to senior year.

9. Take a Perkins or Stafford Loan (student) BEFORE applying for a PLUS loan (parent loan).

10. Look at individual college statistics on how many students received financial aid and how much they received; some of the most expensive colleges might surprise you.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed

Paying for college doesn’t need to cause sleep deprivation. Approach it logically and methodically to devise a plan that works best for you and your family. Don’t forget that, even though all students qualify for loans, you don’t want to be buried in debt after graduation. Choose the colleges with the BEST financial aid packages (those with grants, scholarships, and merit aid).

Do you have an experience or tips about applying for financial aid? We would love to know. Tell us about it in the comments below.

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