It’s no secret that paying for college is an incredibly expensive proposition these days. Tuition at private schools has been steadily rising for years, and state financial troubles have now caused public school tuition to skyrocket, as well. No matter how much or how long you save, it often seems as though no amount of money is ever sufficient as far as college costs are concerned.

Some parents choose not to pay any part of their children’s education, leaving it up to their son or daughter to take out the necessary loans. Some have trust funds and significant family wealth, resources both of which make tuition checks a less daunting concern. And, on the other side of the spectrum, some parents come from disadvantaged backgrounds and can more easily secure financial aid for their children.

But then there are those of us who fall somewhere in between. We are the parents with middle class incomes and a desire to help our kids pay for school. We are also often those who get left out in the cold on the financial aid process. If this sounds like your position, and if you have children who are approaching college age, you need to take all necessary steps to maximize the amount your family can receive from financial aid sources.

Here are a few tips:

Don’t Own Your Home

This tip may require some more long-term planning, but colleges assess home ownership differently from cases where the home is not completely owned (i.e. where the family rents or has a mortgage).

Invest in Retirement

When considering aid, schools often look at the total net worth of both you and your spouse. They look at investments, trusts, real estate equity, and business value. But they often exclude all monies that sit in a retirement account such as an IRA or a 401K. Contributing significantly to such an account can consequently lower your assessed net worth.

Don’t Claim Your Child as a Dependent

Your son or daughter will naturally be a legal dependent of yours until the day they graduate high school and head off for college. At this point, however, many parents continue to claim their children as dependents, especially if they are helping out with college costs. But if your child is paying for some of the college expenses by himself, making him independent minimizes the consideration given to your financial resources and can result in larger amounts of aid.

These are a few of the major tips I used when preparing to send my kids off to college. The most important piece of advice, however, is one that needs to be planned out many more years beforehand: try to make sure that your kids are only a couple years separated in age, since having multiple children in college at the same time can translate into significant aid increases. But for those of us who have grown children and are past this point, taking advantage of the above opportunities may be the best short-term way to maximize your aid.

Guest Post by Amanda