The First 4 Questions to Ask Your School's Financial Aid Office

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It's that time of yearif you're continuing your education by making plans to attend college or graduate school, you've likely just chosen which school you'll be attending next year.

But you can't take a break just yet.

While you may have already met with your school's financial aid office earlier in the application process, it's important for you to stay in touch as a new student. Keeping in contact with the financial aid office can lead to new scholarship and grant opportunities to help you better understand how to pay for school.

There's no better time to set up a meeting with your school's financial aid office than after you've decided where to attend. Not only can a financial aid officer answer any specific questions you might have about your award package, but there could still be many opportunities for you to earn more financial aid.

Here at CommonBond, we've outlined the 4 most important questions to ask your financial aid office after you've chosen which school to attend, whether you're bound for college or a postgraduate program.

1. Is there any unclaimed or extra scholarship or grant money available?

Most schools will accept more students than will actually enroll, and students withdraw their applications or change their mind throughout the summer. When this happens, it may potentially free up award money initially intended for students who are no longer attending the school, leaving many of these funds unclaimed.

Asking about unclaimed scholarship or grant money means you could receive more gift aidmoney you don't have to pay back after graduation. This is always smart, as it reduces the amount of debt you're ultimately responsible for and reduces the amount of loans you'll have to pay back.

2. What are the requirements of work-study jobs?

If you demonstrate financial needthe cost of attending college that isn't covered by your expected family contribution or outside grants or scholarshipsyou might qualify for a work-study job. The federal work-study program is designed as an additional form of financial aid that's paid to you directly, as opposed to being applied to your financial aid package.

Beyond the requirement to demonstrate financial need, when you apply for work-study is also a major factor in finding a work-study job. There may be limited positions and funding available, so it's important to consult your financial aid office as early as possible if you hope to take advantage of any available jobs. Jobs are typically available at the start of the academic year but may also be up for grabs during the year.

While income from work-study jobs is typically paid to you directly, if you're comfortable with the discretionary income you have available to you, you can elect to have your work-study payments applied directly to your tuition and room-and-board costs instead of your bank account. Since this is an optional request, you'd have to specifically ask your financial aid officer to direct your work-study earnings in this manner.

The specific limitations of work-study jobs sometimes vary depending on the school you attend. For instance, there may be a maximum amount of hours you can work per week based on your course schedule, academic progress and performance. Your work-study job might be required to be related to your major, may take place on- or off-campus and is guaranteed to pay at least the federal minimum wage.

3. Does your school offer tuition payment plans?

Even after your financial aid, scholarships, grants and loans are applied to the total cost of your tuition, you might still owe some money to your school. A tuition payment plan might be available to make paying these expenses a little bit easier.

Think of a tuition payment plan as paying your dues in small, bite-sized chunks instead of all at once. Rather than paying your annual tuition in one big lump sum, it will be broken down over a period of time, usually eight to 12 months. This allows you to more easily handle what could otherwise be a daunting and overwhelming cost.

One of the biggest benefits of a tuition payment plan is that the plan is almost interest-free, if not entirely free of accumulating interest. While this sounds like a loan, a tuition payment plan is exactly what it says it isa payment plan. It allows you to essentially put your tuition bill on "lay-away" to more easily make payments over a short time instead of all at once.

There may simply be a small, nominal fee or monthly finance charge tacked onto your tuition payment plan to set the plan up or a small monthly finance charge. Depending on these fees, you may be better off saving your money and letting it collect interest, then paying off your annual tuition when the bill arrives.

4. If private loans are your next best option, how can the aid office help?

Private loans, offered by lenders such as CommonBond, are a great way to bridge the gap that may be left over after other sources of financial aid have been expended. Private loans also present the opportunity for you to establish and build credit while you're still in schoolan important factor when it comes to making major purchases, like a new car or your first home, later on in life.

A financial aid officer can point you in the direction of private loans geared toward students, which often have lower interest rates than you could find on your own. For example, CommonBond offers variable (2.88-8.72% APR) and fixed (5.50-9.67% APR).

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