02/17/2015 04:23 pm ET Updated Apr 19, 2015

Working With the College Financial Aid Office

Paying for college is a major financial commitment for students and their families. Fortunately, there are many sources of financial aid that can help reduce the price tag of a college education. And one of the best places to learn about your options is the college Financial Aid Office.

Your Gateway to Information
The Financial Aid Office serves as a gateway to information and data related to financing your education. This department is responsible for coordinating financial aid from federal, state, private and institutional sources; educating students on financial matters pertaining to funding their education; and communicating financial assistance awards to eligible students, according to the criteria defined by the funder.

You do not have to wait to be accepted at a college to contact its Financial Aid Office; in fact, it's a good idea to reach out early to financial counselors at your targeted schools. Their role is to help you find ways to make your college experience affordable.

What the College Financial Aid Office Can Do for You
There are many ways the Financial Aid Office staff can assist college bound students. The financial aid advisor can:

• Help you fill out the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA), which is used by U.S. Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid to determine the your eligibility for financial assistance.

• Explain the differences between the various types of aid for which you are eligible.

• Provide advice on the short-term and long-term impact of taking out student loans to fund your education.

• Help you identify scholarships for which you may be eligible.

• Guide you to reputable resources for exploring other ways of funding your education (although legally, they cannot advocate for individual lenders or scholarship resources).

To build an effective relationship with the Financial Aid Office, try to meet with an advisor in person when you are on a campus tour. While drop-ins by prospective students and parents are welcomed, you'll spend less time waiting to see an advisor if you make an appointment in advance.

Approach the process with a positive attitude -- remember, the advisor wants to help you overcome financial hurdles to attending their institution. Be sure to ask about the college's deadlines for applying for financial aid -- and don't wait until the last minute to submit your application. Make sure the Financial Aid Office has your phone number, email address and other key contact information, so they can get in touch with you on a timely basis. Always respond promptly to any questions or requests for additional information from the advisor to avoid delays in determining your financial aid award.

Please remember the Financial Aid Office's ability to help you cover your educational expenses is limited by state and federal rules and regulations. The amount of assistance you will ultimately be offered will be based on your family's income, assets and other factors such as your achievements in high school, work or community service. That's why it is very important to inform the Financial Aid Office if your family's financial situation has significantly changed since filing your FAFSA form, due to unemployment, high medical expenses or other special circumstances. These unexpected changes could help you qualify for more assistance than you were originally offered.

Act Now
Our best advice: contact your school's Financial Aid Office sooner rather than later. They are well prepared to help you navigate the financial aid process and open the door to your college education and experience.

More information about college financial aid programs in 2015 can be found in Centenary's free downloadable eBook, Navigating the World of College Student Financial Aid at

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