Stock Groups

How to get more financial aid for college


The Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn that followed made it even more difficult for many students and their parents to afford college just as costs went up.

Tuition and fees plus room and board for a four-year private college averaged $50,770 in the 2020-21 school year; at four-year, in-state public colleges, it was $22,180, according to the College Board, which tracks trends in college pricing and student aid.

Nearly all four-year students now rely on financial aid to get a degree.

More from Personal Finance:
Families massively underestimate cost of college
Student loan forgiveness is still up in the air
Fewer students are going to college because of the cost

“Financial aid is becoming a larger piece of the college admissions puzzle, as tuition costs continue to rise,” said Marnix Broer, co-founder and CEO of EdTech platform StuDocu.

Many students choose colleges based on their ability to afford them, making it more crucial than ever that they understand the options available to them when seeking financial aid. 

This is where the Federal Student Aid Free Application comes in. The FAFSA must be completed by students to receive all types of aid, such as scholarships, grants, work-study or loans.

For the 2021-2022 school year, the FAFSA filing season opens Friday, Oct. 1 — and the sooner students file, the better.

Financial aid may be awarded on a first come, first served basis or through programs that have limited resources.

Manny Chagas is the vice president at Discover Student Loans. He says the FAFSA helps families get aid faster.

His words: “Applying earlier can provide families with opportunities for federal and state aid, such as grants or scholarships.”  

FAFSA allows for many funding possibilities. This is not limited to federal aid.

FAFSA is open to many funding options. It’s not only federal aid.

Manny Chagas

vice president of Discover Student Loans

The Department of Education awards about $120 billion every year to help students pay for higher education. Your state and college may be able to provide financial assistance.

According to data from The College Board, although federal aid is down slightly, institutional and state funds have grown significantly in the past decade.

Joe DePaulo co-founder of College Ave Student Loans, said “there is a finite amount aid.” This is why it’s so important to apply “early”

Rick Castellano of Sallie Mae said, “Especially when it comes to state aid funds, these funds are always there until they run out.”

It is crucial to get in line for assistance, especially since a large portion of the aid will be first-come, first served.

This has made it more difficult to afford aid. Yet, families continue to skip applying for the FAFSA every year.

Last year, just 68% of families applied — a record low, according to Sallie Mae.

Among those who don’t applyMost families say they don’t believe they qualify. Studies show that this is the case for most. In fact, 86% of first-time, full-time students at public four-year colleges were granted aid, Discover Student Loans found. 

Castellano stated that almost everyone will be eligible for some type of aid.

Nearly everyone can qualify for something.

Rick Castellano

spokesman for Sallie Mae

Many factors, not just income, go into determining how much aid students receive, DePaulo added, including the total number of people in the household and the number of children in college, as well as other financial commitments such as a home equity loan or child support payments.

The application process itself is a major hurdle for families.

But experts claim that the FAFSA application can be completed online at in just under an hour, if you have all your paperwork (including W-2s, last year’s tax return) and the necessary documentation. (Sallie Mae also has a free online FAFSA tool to help families navigate the process.)

Chagas stated that the process takes approximately 30 minutes for most families.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.