My Mom's Financial Aid Tips

Here are some tips for parents trying to figure out how to send their kids to a private college.

By Maggie Argiro — February 16, 2023


My Mom's Financial Aid Tips

My mom put me and my brother through college, then she put me and my stepdad both through grad school. We weren't wealthy growing up, so she had a lot to learn about financial aid and paying for college. You might be wondering: how did she do it?

With all this experience, I asked her for some tips she'd share with parents who are trying to figure out how to afford sending their kids to a private college. Here's what she said:

1. Don't fear the FAFSA.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Because it's connected to your taxes, it can feel scary and even invasive to provide all the required documents. But the benefit of receiving aid and learning about grants, loans, and other aid options outweighs those uncomfortable feelings.
2. Don't put off the FAFSA.
The FAFSA opens on October 1st of every year. Deadlines vary by state, so be sure to check which deadline applies to you. The first time you do the FAFSA, fill it out with your student. That will set your student up for being able to do it on their own eventually, if they enroll in a graduate program later, or if they declare themselves financially independent. Getting it done quickly means you can plan your finances for the year as well.
3. If you don't qualify for the FAFSA, check, and see if your state has any aid programs.
Where I live and work in Washington, there is the WASFA, which can help students who are Washington Residents find state aid in addition to federal aid that is part of the FAFSA. Even if you qualify for FAFSA, you can apply for WASFA.
4. Be a partner with the financial aid office.
Though it can feel like going to a collector, the office is there to keep students enrolled. If you're having trouble paying, don't ignore it. Talk to the financial aid office persistently and find a solution that works for you.
5. Apply for Scholarships.
Unlike loans, scholarships don't have to be paid back. Talk to your student's guidance counselor or the college your student enrolls in about how to find and apply for scholarships. Look within your community too, by asking at local libraries if they have scholarship databases or reaching out to community organizations. I've helped many students apply for scholarships and have been part of scholarship review committees. For tips on writing scholarship essays, check out my article, Scholarship Essays 101.
6. Understand what you're getting into
For example, before agreeing to take on loans, understand what that means for your finances and taxes, especially if you anticipate chances to your circumstances or major life events, like a new job or getting married. This applies to your student as well because they might graduate college with thousands of dollars of debt. Talk to your student (and maybe consult with a financial expert) about what loans mean for their future, what their options would be if they do or do not choose to take on student loans and give them a basic vocabulary in loan terms and topics.

I hope my mom's tips help you navigate paying for your student's college education with a little bit more clarity and confidence than before! SAGE Scholars has many articles to help you with all aspects of paying for college. Check out these recommended articles: Beyond Financial Aid: Funding Strategies for College Costs , Declaring Yourself Financially Independent , and Financial Aid vs. College Funding.

Maggie Argiro

Maggie Argiro

Maggie Argiro is a library professional, writer, oral historian, and is TEFL-certified. She currently manages the circulation desk at the South Seattle College library where she is deeply invested in helping all students reach their academic goals.
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