You've received your financial aid award letter for the upcoming academic year. Amidst all of the financial aid terms and figures, there is some important information that may not be explicitly mentioned but that is good to know.
1. You can -- and should -- shop around for loans. Just because your financial aid office gave you a student loan from Company A doesn't mean you can't get a loan from Company B instead. Shop around -- at your bank, at other lenders your school works with, at the credit union your folks may belong to -- to find the best interest rate possible. It could end up saving you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars later.
2. Know that your financial aid package is negotiable. Yup, that's right. You're not "stuck" with whatever your school gives you. If you are a first-year student trying to decide where to go, use your financial aid offer from College A to get a better deal at College B. A school can sometimes match another school's offer if they have the available funds and want you to come badly enough. Additionally, if you feel like the package you've been given is from a formula and doesn't, for example, take into account the high medical bills your family has, make an appointment with a counselor to see what they can do for you.
3. Your school may increase your financial aid the longer you attend. A high number of students transfer or drop out of college during their first or second years. Consequently, if you've stayed at your school for two or three years, the financial aid office may be willing to "invest" more in you because they know you are statistically more likely to stay than an incoming first-year student. (The reverse might also be true: your school might know you're willing to pay a little more or take out an additional loan to stay where you've been for several years. That doesn't mean you can't use your tenure at the institution to negotiate, however.)
4. Be on good terms with the financial aid office staff. Think about it: every time you walk in, they are super busy and trying to work with a lot of students requesting a lot of different things. They work hard at a hard job. Consequently, yelling at a financial aid staff member isn't going to help you any. Finances can be touchy for a lot of people, so make sure to remain polite and respectful of the people who work all day trying to make sure you can stay in school.
5. If you have an emergency, the financial aid office can be a great resource. Short several hundred dollars for rent at the end of the semester? Have to fly home for a family emergency, but don't have the money in your budget? Check with the financial aid office about what they can do. Some schools have emergency funds available for students in emergency situations. And even if they don't, they can point you in the right direction so that an unexpected financial bump doesn't turn into a decision to withdraw.