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Posted January 31, 2017

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. While you may not be jumping up and down with joy and excitement, we hope you at least recognize the value of financial aid. No matter the circumstances, financial aid can make college more affordable for all.

Here are some simple yet powerful financial aid tips to keep in mind.

1. File your Free Application for Federal Student Aid

You must file the FAFSA to receive any type of federal student aid. What you may not know is this information is also used by universities to determine your eligibility for institutional aid including scholarships, grants, and loans. Not all financial aid is need-based and the FAFSA may be required by your school for consideration of different types of aid. Don’t miss out.

2. Pay attention to deadlines

As you can see financial aid may come from different sources – your school, state, and the federal government among others. In order to be considered, you must submit your application before their specific deadlines. To find out what your deadlines are click here. Remember to apply before the first deadline to be considered at all three levels.

3. Get in touch with the financial aid office

Universities likely have some leeway when awarding financial aid. Contact them if your circumstances have changed since you filed your FAFSA. The loss of a parent, a job loss, or similar situations are sometimes considered special circumstances. Your application may be reviewed and you may receive additional financial aid as a result. It doesn’t hurt to try.

4. Look for aid elsewhere

Explore your options if your financial aid package changes from one year to the next or it doesn’t cover the cost of attendance to begin with. I recommend starting with scholarships; there are so many out there. Here is USA Today’s list of best scholarship search engines. Keep in mind, your university, college, or department may also award scholarships.

5. Look ahead

Due to recent changes, you may begin submitting your FAFSA earlier than ever before. Applications for the 2017-2018 school year, for example, may have been submitted as early as October 1, 2016. Since some institutional aid is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, you want to apply as soon as possible. This will help you secure the best financial aid package possible while funds are plentiful. If you haven’t already, begin applying today.