20 ways to get federal money for college

6. Count your babies
The amount Uncle Sam expects you to contribute to your child's education partly depends on your family size. Put simply, larger families are expected to contribute a smaller percentage of their income per college-bound child than smaller families. Most parents don't realize that unborn children count as family members, too. Pregnant mothers should count each expected child in the case of twins, triplets, etc., but be sure to get written confirmation from a doctor.

7. Coordinate your college siblings

Looking to double the size of that aid package? Try doubling the number of kids you have in college. "Financial-aid formulas are very heavily weighed toward yearly income, and just because you have more children in school at the same time doesn't mean that you have more income," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial-aid Web site "Holding back a child or trying to maximize the overlap between the children in school -- that can have a big financial impact."

8. Serve your country
For students looking for a constructive way to spend a gap year (possibly to help coordinate the number of siblings simultaneously in school), Americorps offers year-long service programs that are guaranteed to never lower your financial-aid eligibility. Besides giving a small stipend and an educational award upon completion, the program offers invaluable training, the opportunity to make a difference and great experience to note on a college application.

9. Maximize IRAs, 401(k)s
Two assets that won't be considered on the FAFSA form are funds invested in your family's primary home and accounts set aside for retirement. Investing more money in your future now could result in the government investing more in your child's future. If you have liquid funds just waiting to find their way into your retirement account, invest no later than two years before applying for federal aid.

10. Buy a house
If you're thinking about moving on up, consider your timing. Funds tied up in the purchase of a family's primary home are not considered available assets. Instead of having that equity subtracted from your child's aid package, use it to your mutual advantage by investing in something your entire family can enjoy.


11. Spend, spend, spend
Spend your child's money, that is. Because Junior is expected to pony up a higher percentage of income toward higher education, it's not unwise to blow student funds first on pre-college needs (such as dorm supplies, a computer if needed, phone cards and books) before you apply for aid. To avoid gripes and groans from the peanut gallery, set aside an equal amount in one of your accounts and agree to reimburse your child at a later time.

12. Get personal in financial-aid office
Thomas from the University of Southern California warns parents to never underestimate the power of human resources. "Financial-aid offices really do want to know if there's something different about the family," she says. "For example, there's no place on the FAFSA for high medical expenses, and usually that's not something families can control." For extenuating circumstances such as health emergencies, unemployment, divorce or loss of a home, aid officers can negotiate with the government on your behalf, potentially winning you a sweeter award.

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