After the FAFSA: Maximizing Scholarships

Embarking on your college journey is exciting, yet the financial aid process can be complex to navigate. Understanding the basics of financial aid is crucial to ensure you’re not missing out on valuable opportunities to fund your education. Here's a streamlined guide to help you cover your bases with financial aid, from timing your applications to maximizing scholarship access.

When to Apply for Financial Aid

One of the most common questions students have is whether to apply for financial aid before or after they are accepted to a school. The answer? Before. Financial aid applications, like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), should be submitted as early as possible in the application cycle. Most financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so early applicants often have a better chance at receiving aid. The FAFSA opens on October 1st for the following academic year, and it's wise to apply as close to this date as possible, even if you haven't finalized your college choices.

Don't leave money on the table!

Filling out the FAFSA is a critical first step, but it’s just the beginning of your financial aid journey. Here are subsequent steps to ensure you’re accessing all possible scholarships and aid:

  • Check Your School’s Financial Aid Deadlines

    Each college may have its own deadlines for financial aid applications, separate from the FAFSA. Ensure you meet these to be eligible for school-specific scholarships and grants.

  • Explore State-Specific Financial Aid Options

    Many states offer their own financial aid programs for residents. Check your state’s education website for application forms, deadlines, and eligibility criteria. South Carolina offers many merit-based and need-based grants and scholarships.

  • Apply for Scholarships Continuously

    Beyond institutional and federal aid, a multitude of private scholarships are available. Use our scholarship search engine to find opportunities. Remember, scholarship applications should be an ongoing process throughout your college career, not just as an incoming freshman.

  • Complete Any Additional Financial Aid Forms

    Some institutions require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA to award non-federal aid. Check if your prospective schools require this form and submit it accordingly.

  • Follow Up on Your FAFSA

    After submitting the FAFSA, monitor your email and student aid account for any requests for additional information or documentation. Promptly responding to these requests is crucial to avoid delays in your aid disbursement.

  • Review Your Financial Aid Award Letters Carefully

    Once you receive your award letters from the schools that have accepted you, compare the offers. Look not just at the total amount of aid, but also at the balance of grants and scholarships (which don’t need to be repaid) versus loans.

  • Negotiate Your Financial Aid Package 

    If your circumstances have changed or if you received a more generous offer from another school, it’s possible to appeal your financial aid package. Contact the financial aid office to discuss your situation.

  • Search for Work-Study Opportunities

    If your financial aid package includes federal work-study, contact your school about how to apply for these positions on campus. They’re a great way to earn money and gain professional experience while in school.

By following these steps, you'll not only maximize your access to financial aid but also alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with higher education. Remember, the key to financial aid success is to start early, stay organized, and continuously seek out scholarship opportunities. Your college years are an investment in your future, and navigating the financial aid process wisely can make all the difference in making your education affordable and accessible.

Browse More Topics