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Navigating the complex landscape of college finances can be overwhelming, but with a well-crafted financial aid strategy, you can make your education goals more accessible and budget friendly.  The key is to have a plan about your needs, the available sources of funding, understanding scholarships and loans and how it all fits together across your education timeline.

The first and best step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s the cornerstone of financial aid in the United States and it’s important to variety of financial aid programs like federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. To maximize FAFSA benefits, it’s crucial to submit the application as early as possible. The FAFSA opens on October 1st each year, and some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. By applying early, you increase your chances of securing a larger share of available funds. There have also been some changes to the 2024-25 FASFA program that you read about in Earn Up’s recent blog post.

Another critical and sometimes misunderstood area of financial aid is scholarships. According to SoFi, close to $100 million in scholarships and $2 billion in student grants go unclaimed. Typically, the money is not awarded due to lack of applicants. Scholarship opportunities are abundant for students willing to invest time in research and application efforts. To uncover these hidden gems, consider leveraging online scholarship databases such as Fastweb,, and College Board’s Scholarship Search. These platforms offer tailored searches based on your academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, and personal background. Additionally, explore opportunities with local businesses, community organizations, and foundations that may offer scholarships specific to your region or field of study.

If you’ve already selected a school, don’t overlook potential scholarships within your school.  Sometimes universities have a variety of grants and awards available that may not be widely publicized. Engaging with guidance counselors, professors, and community leaders can provide valuable insights into lesser-known scholarship opportunities. Remember, persistence is key in the scholarship search process, so regularly check for updates and new opportunities to maximize your financial aid potential.

To streamline your financial aid search, create a comprehensive financial aid checklist that details out your needs, options and processes. Begin by listing key deadlines for FAFSA submission, scholarship applications, and any other financial aid opportunities you discover. Break down the checklist into categories such as federal aid, state aid, institutional aid and private scholarships to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered. Earn Up offers a variety of financial aid resources to help you along your path. Regularly update and revisit your checklist throughout the application process. Check off completed tasks and verify that all required documents have been submitted. This proactive approach ensures that you don’t miss out on valuable financial aid opportunities.

By having a well thought out plan, an understanding of available resources and outlets and a process for navigating the applications and deadlines, you will maximize the financial aid opportunities available to you. Be proactive, stay organized, and explore all available avenues to make your education dreams a reality…without breaking the bank.