Financing your education begins before the acceptance letter arrives. The first place to start is by filling out the FAF form for college aid. This should be done early in the year so the college or university has plenty of time to receive the information from the government. This form is essential in determining your qualifications for financial aid, scholarships and grants. I would suggest that you do not delay, even for the tax return portion, you can estimate what last year’s earnings were and send the updated final 1040 later.
Here’s a little trick I learned. Bank at the same bank as the professors do. For example, the Teacher’s Credit Union. The bank that backs the college or university, has a special interest in seeing that you get financing to go there. Your bread and butter is their wage. The local self-serving bank is also at the forefront of knowing where and how to obtain funding to best serve their clients.
Do not be shy about for financial need in your application essay, freshman get togethers or first-time meeting with financial aid counselors. Make sure they can put a name and face with whatever available funds are out there. If they remember you as a person, they will remember that you are the one who needs the money. This includes applying for work study, internships, graduate student teaching positions, or any other way of getting some funding. Don’t forget, if you are proficient enough you can go outside the school to ask for special grants or scholarships that pertain uniquely to you. For example, minorities, handicapped, of a certain lineage like Scandinavian, or if you have a particular vocation in mind like ministry, science, or politics. Those who graduated ahead of you are always willing to help out by putting you in touch with the right people.
Of course the best way to finance your college tuition, is by working your way through. Some employers actually pay your way and encourage you to keep your gradepoint high. My entire undergraduate studies were paid for by my employers. It is helpful to work at least a part time job, hopefully in the vocation you are studying for so that the network of available jobs will be there when you are ready. Doing chartible work or volunteering during the summers makes your resume for both scholarships and jobs look better.
Finally, there is no shame in asking your family, church, club or other civic organizations to assist you in helping to make the world a better place. You would be surprised to know how many senior citizens, professionals and civic groups collect donations at their luncheons and meetings just to create scholarships. I have even seen scholarships for hair dressers and mechanics. Whatever your interests are, there are like-minded folks out there just itching to see you join them.