Financial Aid Secrets

By Lee Harrell, Special to

First thing that comes to mind when you think about college? Tuition. How are you going to pay for your child’s higher education? Use these financial aid secrets:

1. FILL OUT THE FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may be the key to unlocking doors to otherwise inaccessible federal and state grants and loans. Also, by filling out the FAFSA you will find out how much money the government will provide towards your schooling.

2. INVESTIGATE PRIVATE SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS. Check with your child’s college to obtain leads on possible funds. Many of these scholarships and grants have very specific requirements, but those requirements may lessen over time, if an exact match isn’t found. Visit web sites like for more information.

3. ASK ABOUT FEDERAL PARENT PLUS LOANS. This allows parents to borrow money on behalf of their child. These are federal loans with simple terms, and there’s no deadline for applications. They are easy to apply for and require only a basic credit check. Parent PLUS loans do not require you to complete the FAFSA.

4. ASK ABOUT PRIVATE LOANS. In this case, loans will be made in your child’s name, and you may need to co-sign, so you’ll want to determine in advance whether they you are willing and able to do so. You may also wish to ask about a co-signer release following a specified number of on-time payments.

5. ASK ABOUT INSTITUTIONAL LOANS. Some colleges set aside funds to loan to students who are unable to secure Parent PLUS or private loans. Institutional loans are not awarded as part of normal college financial aid packages and they often aren’t advertised.

6. ASK ABOUT A “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCE APPEAL” if your family’s financial situation has changed since your FAFSA filing. This is another important reason to file the FAFSA, even if you don’t think you will qualify for aid at the time of filing. If something does happen, having the form on file provides a bit of an “insurance policy” that can be cited in the appeal process.

7. MAKE SURE TO COMPLETE AN INTERNAL FINANCIAL AID APPLICATION for your child’s college. Not all schools have separate internal forms, but for schools that do, even filing the form may open up some additional aid opportunities.

Want to read more? Check out StudentAdvisor’s Navigating Admissions Guide for advice from guidance counselors and financial aid experts around the country!


Lee Harrell is the Assistant to the Vice President of Admission and Financial Aid at Ohio Wesleyan University.