5 Things I Wish I had Known About Financial Aid as a Freshman

Navigating the financial aid system at SMU is a little bit like being stuck on a roller coaster in the dark: scary, full of mysterious twists and turns and dangerous- but if you follow instructions and keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times, everything should- hopefully- turn out okay. Here are some instructions I wish I had gotten my first year in college that would've made my bumpy ride a whole lot smoother: 

1. Start Early 

 

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Those deadlines are no joke. A lot of factors are considered when your application for financial aid is being processed, but one major factor is when you turn everything in. Federal financial aid is distributed, partially, on a first come-first served basis. That means start right away, even if it seems too early to be thinking about next year. 

2. Review and Correct Everything 

Speaking of those early deadlines, part of the new FAFSA process is turning your application in early, using the previous year's tax information, and then updating it after January once you've completed taxes again. So I would fill out the FAFSA once in October 2018 using my 2017 tax returns, but would update the form in 2019 after I've done my 2018 taxes. All this goes to say- do not forget to update your form! This can impact you in major ways and any problems or inconsistencies on your application can put in at the bottom of the pile for processing. 

3. Meet your financial aid advisor 

Yes, a lot of your application is processed using formulas and computers, but a financial aid advisor is able to find some wiggle room or even some scholarship opportunities to help make ends meet. But you need to go in and meet them face to face to explain your circumstances and ask all your questions. 

4. Tell your financial aid advisor your whole story 

Don't be shy or embarrassed about explaining your financial circumstances to your advisor- they've seen it all before. But there are lots of exemptions, credits, etc. for expenses you may not have considered- like if your family is dealing with serious illness or if you're taking care of an elderly family member. Don't leave out important information! 

5. Ask how big decisions will affect your bottom line 

 

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Did you know that moving off-campus can affect your financial aid? What about getting an outside scholarship? Have you considered how taking that RA position could influence your need-based grant? The sad truth is that big financial decisions often appear in the financial aid formula as additional income, so they can sometimes affect how much aid you receive from SMU. Before finalizing any of these big decisions, meet with your financial aid advisor and discuss how these things will affect your bottom line and figure out which options are best for you and your finances.