Alice Murphey: Financial Aid Expert

Finding More Funds

March 29, 2011 | News

Finding More Funds

What do you do if your financial-aid package comes up short?

  1. Pay for college in installments.
  2. Read this column.
  3. Search for more scholarships and aid.
  4. Look for other sources of income, like summer jobs and work-study.
  5. Make use of federal tax incentives.
  6. All of the above.

If you answered F on this, your first college test, you get an A-plus.

Your financial-aid package isn’t the last word on the amount of money that you can put toward your college education. But it’s up to you to take the initiative to find creative ways to fill in the gap between what you get and what you need.

You don’t have to be a financial wiz or spend a lot of money to add dollars to the pot.

One simple and inexpensive way to cut bills immediately is to sign up for the payment plans offered by many colleges. This way, you can make monthly contributions throughout the year, and have the plan forward the funds at the start of each term to pay your bills. Typically, there’s a small fee. Or you can set aside monthly payments in your own account and pay as you go.

Searching for scholarships and other aid won’t cost you a penny. Skip the search services that charge; they can be expensive, up to $395 per search. And they don’t offer custom results. They often include only the general sources of aid that apply to everyone: state grants, federal Pell Grants, federal student loans and work-study. You can do better on your own and use the $395 you’ve saved to help pay for college.

There are several free websites that may be invaluable to your scholarship/aid search. Try fastweb.com, collegenet.com/mach25/app and apps.collegeboard.com/cbsearch_ss/welcome.jsp.

In addition to the free search services, other scholarship sources may be right in front of you. If either of your parents belongs to a union, find out whether it offers scholarships to members’ children. Ask employers if there’s a company scholarship program or an employee benefit to help with dependents’ college bills. And ask whether your high school gives scholarships that you may qualify for.

Most colleges make their initial admissions decisions based on six semesters of high school transcripts. Academic-based scholarships, such as CUNY’s Peter F. Vallone Academic Scholarship for students from New York City high schools who have a B grade-point average, are based on that record.  If your grade-point average has improved in your senior year, ask the college to review your updated records to determine whether a scholarship can be awarded.

The federal tax code provides a variety of incentives for families who are saving for or paying higher education costs or are repaying student loans.  You may be able to claim a HOPE Scholarship and Lifetime Learning Credit or a tuition deduction of up to $4,000 per year. You also may be able to deduct the interest on your student loan. For details on this credit, see www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96341,00.html.

And don’t forget to look for a summer job; the money you earn can be put toward your college expenses.

Alice Murphey, CUNY’s director of financial aid management, has been helping students with tuition issues for more than 30 years.

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