As you and your family continue to search for your “Best Fit” college, no doubt the cost of each institution weighs heavily into that decision. With the cost of college continuing to grow every year and the amount of financial aid dimishing, students, you must be responsible and be a key part of the conversation in figuring out how much you and your family can afford.
Every college is required to have a “Net Price Calculator” on their website so families can get a “Estimated Total Cost of Attendance” as a starting point. Use this tool to your advantage!
Once you have a rough estimate of how much a university will cost, consider how you plan to contribute to your higher education and don’t forget to take into account things such as those “personal expenses” such as your cell phone or internet bill, rugby team dues, or going out for meals. How do you plan to cover these costs? Do you plan to have a job or partake in a Work-Study program? Do you plan to apply for many scholarships?
Start by being realistic about you and your family’s income and budget (over four years, not just one!) as well as considering your expected earnings after you graduate. Do not take on loans that you will not be able to pay back!
Bottom line: don’t dismiss a college simply because of its sticker price. Do the calculations and see what is best for your family’s financial needs.
Financial Aid starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
With this one application you can apply for financial aid at multiple colleges and from multiple funding sources (federal, state, institutional, and private providers of assistance).
WHEN TO COMPLETE YOUR FAFSA:
Fill out the FAFSA once for each academic year that you will attend school. The earlier you do it, the better! Many scholarships have January deadlines so the sooner you begin the search, the better your opportunities. Ideally students should begin searching for scholarships during the middle of their junior year. The financial aid application process is separate from the admissions application process!
WHO AWARDS FINANCIAL AID PACKAGES:
The U.S. Government.
The FAFSA is the application form for these programs.
Almost every state has at least one grant or scholarship available to residents, and many have a long list of student aid programs. Eligibility is usually restricted to state residents attending a college in-state, but that is not always the case. There are annual deadlines for most programs (if you miss a deadline, be sure to try again next year). Click here for a map of the United States with links to State Financial Aid Programs.
Your College, University, or Vocational School.
Your college or university financial aid office will use the information from your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal and state programs. Most schools have their own financial aid programs and will use your FAFSA results. Contact the college financial office to learn what kind of aid they may offer, whether you need to fill out any forms besides the FAFSA, and what the deadlines are.
Some independent scholarship programs accept the FAFSA, but most require their own forms. Many of these scholarships are not based on financial need. This is the kind of financial aid you usually need to track down on your own. A scholarship search engine can help you find and submit applications to scholarship programs.
THREE MAIN TYPES OF FINANCIAL AID:
Grants and Scholarships.
Grants do not need to be repaid and you do not need to work to earn them. Grand aid comes from federal and state governments and from individual colleges. Scholarships are usually awarded based on merit.
Student employment and work-study aid helps students pay for education costs, supplies and personal expenses. Work-study is a federal program that provides students with part-time employment to hep them meet their financial needs and give them work experience.
Most financial aid comes in the form of loans to student or parents, aid which must be repaid. Most loans that are awarded based on financial need are low-interest loans sponsored by the federal government so no interest accres until you begin repayment after graduation.
College Planning Resources:
- National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
- Federal Pell Grant
- College Prep Checklist (PDF)
- College Net Price Calculator
- Funding Your Education (PDF)
- Do You Need Money? (PDF)
- The ACT Financial Aid Resources
- The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid
- Fastweb: Scholarships, Financial Aid, Student Loans and Colleges
- Mapping Your Future: National Financial Aid Collaborative
- ABCs of College Financial Aid