3 Tips for the Search for College Funding

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The race for college funding for the 2013 academic year is on, and harried parents are looking into any nook and cranny that might contain a few shekels for Junior's tuition bill.

The bill for college is growing larger every year. Here's what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about the current costs for college, and its high rate of growth:

For the 2010-11 academic year, annual current dollar prices for undergraduate tuition, room and board were estimated to be $13,600 at public institutions, $36,300 at private not-for-profit institutions and $23,500 at private for-profit institutions. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, prices for undergraduate tuition, room and board at public institutions rose 42%, and prices at private not-for-profit institutions rose 31%, after adjustment for inflation. The inflation-adjusted price for undergraduate tuition, room and board at private for-profit institutions was 5% higher in 2010-11 than in 2000-01.

More than 2 million collegians are just now applying to U.S. colleges and universities, and many millions more are already on campus and looking for more cash to keep the motor running until graduation day. That's a lot of competition, and some savvy parents may already have a head start in what amounts to a "first come, first serve" college funding market.

How can you level the playing field?

Kaplan Test Prep offers three "key tips" for families looking to finance a college education or two:
  • Get your FAFSA form in early. Kaplan advises completing the Free Application For Student Aid Form as soon as possible. Technically, Uncle Sam wants to see the form completed and delivered by the middle of February for the upcoming academic year. But Kaplan says the secret to FAFSA is that it's a "first come, first serve" program and the sooner you get the form completed, the better your chances for getting college funding. Find the form here.
  • Make your college funding campaign a part-time job. According to the college financing website Cappex.com, more than $11 billion is available in merit aid from colleges and universities. Sure, your chances of getting a scholarship depends largely on good grades, but there are plenty of "niche" scholarships available in areas such as athletics, charity and community service for college students. The key, Kaplan says, is to take the time needed to pore through all of the options. A big head start? Go to Finaid.org for a huge list of available scholarships, grants and loans just there for the taking.
  • Don't be reluctant to negotiate. When it comes to college funding, the hunt isn't over until you say it's over. Kaplan advises negotiating hard if your financial aid package doesn't meet your needs -- even for your dream school. "Unlike FAFSA offers, which are non-negotiable, financial aid packages awarded directly by colleges can be considered first offers, not final offers," Kaplan says. "Since they've already accepted you, they more than likely will work with you. Respectfully tell the college why you are a "must have" student or how your family's financial situation may have changed to warrant more aid. The worst they can say is no."

The good news is that, the harder you work and the more creative you get you'll increase the odds of a "yes" instead of "no" on college funding -- but you have to act now, because that collegiate clock is certainly ticking.

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