College tuition is something many parents dread, and rightfully so. The average cost of four years of college is enough to scare off even the most well-intentioned parent; those tuition costs are insane!

Thankfully, scholarships and grants are more widely available than most people think. Applying for financial aid can be a confusing process, though, which is why this advice from high school counselors will help. Here are six tips to get you through the financial aid application process in one piece:

You can Pay Tuition in Installments

Contrary to what some people believe, it’s not necessary to pay all the tuition costs upfront. Whether the family qualifies for financial aid or not, the tuition can often be broken down into monthly payments that span the duration of the student’s attendance. 

Also, many schools will adjust the cost of tuition based on the parents’ income if they cannot afford full-price tuition. Some schools even offer lower-cost tuition for low-income students as an incentive to reach a wider community for diversity between enrolled students.

You Don’t Have to Wait for Tax Season to Submit the FAFSA

While many people think it’s necessary to wait for tax season to file the FAFSA, this is not the case. It is important to use your most recent tax return as proof of income for the FAFSA, but if it’s not yet tax season, last year’s returns will do.

This means you don’t have to worry about estimating your annual income or resubmitting the form later, as well. Simply using your most recent tax return will be perfectly fine to determine your income and your student’s financial aid package.

There’s Another Financial Aid Form Most People Don’t Know About

Besides the FAFSA, there’s another form that not many people know about: the CSS profile. Used primarily by private colleges, the CSS profile is similar to the FAFSA with regards to determining the finances and contribution of the family. This needs to be completed along with the FAFSA if the school requires it, and it determines the financial aid package you will receive.

A fee of $25 is required for this form, and an additional $16 for each additional school you want it sent to. The good news is — you might qualify for a fee waiver, which includes sending your CSS profile to up to eight different colleges.

You Often Have to Opt-In to School-Based Scholarships

Applying to schools that offer scholarships is a great idea, but it’s important to remember that you have to ask for them. Schools don’t simply offer scholarships automatically to low-income students; there’s an entire process that goes into awarding scholarships, starting with you opting in.

Keep an eye out for the box labeled “applying for scholarship” or something similar on the enrollment form. It’s also a good idea to determine whether there’s a separate application for the scholarship, as well as whether the application deadline is earlier for scholarship applicants.

Paying for Financial Aid Help Isn’t Worth it

While the form-filling fiasco that comes along with submitting financial aid paperwork can cause confusion and frustration, it’s not worth your money to pay someone to help you. Chances are, if you’re applying for financial aid, you don’t have money to burn — which is pretty much what you’d be doing if you went this route.

High school counselors are a huge help in this situation, and the college financial aid department will be happy to help you as well. There are even financial aid completion events at some schools–staffed with experts in this area that will help you get your forms under control, free of charge.

Talking About Family Finances is Important

The only way to make sure everyone is on the same page is to have an honest conversation. When it comes to finances, this is especially true — even though money can be a sensitive subject. If students are unaware of their parents’ financial situation, they can’t be realistic about applying to schools.

Knowing which schools are within reach and which ones aren’t will take any frustration out of the conversation. When everyone has the same information, better decisions can be made, and disappointment is less likely to happen.

There are various ways to pay for college these days; it’s not all on the parents anymore. This is excellent news, and while applying for financial aid comes with its own set of challenges, it doesn’t have to be as tricky as it seems. These tips from high school counselors were designed to simplify your life and help you get your student the education they’ve worked so hard for.

You can find even more scholarships and financial aid advice at Scholar’s App — a scholarship application management software and service that makes it easier to get the financial assistance your students deserve.  

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