Paying for College

Financial Aid Smarts

You could take the title of my post here one of two ways. The first way might suggest that that financial aid can be hurtful (as in "it smarts"). That could be true if your aid package is inadequate for your needs. That puts the hurts to you and your family. The intent of this post, though, is to equate "smarts" with "savvy," "knowledge," or "intelligence." So, I hope to inform you about being smart regarding financial aid.

It seems as though there must be an endless list of special days, weeks, months, and even years out there to "celebrate." I'll bet you didn't know that April is Financial Literacy Month—a perfect time for families to take stock of their education and money goals. If your financial aid, such as grants, scholarships, work-study and federal loans, comes up short, it's time to have a family conversation about how to make up the difference.

Sallie Mae, the nation's leading provider of student loans, recommends families explore these tips for filling the gap:

- Talk to the campus financial aid office if family finances have changed. Colleges can adjust their award packages when a family encounters special circumstances, such as if a parent is laid off or takes a salary cut.

- Consider a private education loan that encourages you to pay it off faster and save money on interest. A private education loan may be right for those who still have a gap after exploring federal financial aid or who want to investigate whether they qualify for a lower variable interest rate based on good credit.

- Use an interest-free tuition payment plan to fit college expenses into your monthly budget. Available at hundreds of college campuses, Sallie Mae, for example, administers tuition payment plans that let families spread tuition payments over a number of months instead of making a large lump-sum payment at the beginning of each semester.

- Apply for additional scholarships. While many scholarship deadlines have passed already, some awards have late spring or summer deadlines. You can use's or Sallie Mae's free online scholarship search. Students and parents can quickly identify scholarships still available for the upcoming school year, including thousands of scholarships worth millions with deadlines between now and the end of summer.

- Earn extra money for college through Upromise by Sallie Mae. Upromise members can receive cash back when they make eligible purchases from hundreds of participating companies or use their Upromise credit card. Upromise members have earned $600 million in member rewards since 2001. Rewards accumulate in a member's Upromise account and can be transferred periodically into an eligible 529 college savings plan. Beginning April 3 through June 5, Upromise members have the opportunity to earn extra rewards—of 10 percent or more—from one major online retailer each week, including Apple Store, Staples, Barnes & Noble and Sears. Visit for more information.

Other insights from both students and parents can be found in the Financial Aid & Scholarships forum at College Confidential.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.