College is expensive, and for many families applying for financial aid will be a major part of the application process. The SCH College Counseling team is well equipped to help students and parents navigate the process, a process which can often be cumbersome and confusing.
Some helpful tips to keep in mind:
- Plan ahead! If you think that you will need financial aid at any time during your college career, apply as a freshman.
- Request and read thoroughly all materials from colleges regarding their financial aid policies and procedures. Be sure you meet all the deadlines. A missed deadline can be costly.
- Make sure your list of colleges includes an economic safety school—a school that meets your academic needs and is affordable. For many students, this is a state college or university.
- Students who need significant amounts of aid should remember that some schools give merit-based aid. Keep those grades up and do your best on the SAT or ACT!
- Do not use scholarship or financial aid services that charge a fee. Comprehensive information about scholarships and financial aid is available at no cost in the College Counseling Office, local libraries, from the college’s financial aid officers, and on the Internet. Watch out for scams! There are many people out there hoping to capitalize on parents’ anxiety about paying for college. Try the following websites for scholarship information: www.NASFAA.org, www.fastweb.com, www.finaid.org, and www.salliemae.org.
- When visiting colleges, you might want to make an appointment with a financial aid officer at one or two schools so that he or she can advise you on special programs, tuition plans, or loan or payment programs that might be beneficial to you. Some financial aid officers have more time to meet with parents in the summer and fall. (In the spring, they are swamped and may not have any appointments available.) Prepare your questions ahead of time and take notes during the meeting.
Financial Aid Questions to Ask When Visiting a College:
- Is your admissions policy “need blind”? A college that is “need blind” makes admissions decisions without regard to an applicant’s ability to pay. The “need blind” college does not review an applicant’s financial information until after an admissions decision has been made. There was a time when most colleges were “need blind,” but this policy has eroded over the past 10 years. Some colleges, while considering applicants with equal academic records who are “on the edge” of acceptance, will give preference to the student who is able to pay. These colleges are known as “need aware” or “need conscious.” You should know the policy for each school you are considering.
- Do you meet 100% of demonstrated need? To be eligible for financial aid, a student and the parent complete several forms (see descriptions below) and a determination is made regarding a family’s economic need. Some colleges meet 100% of your demonstrated need with an aid package that includes grants (scholarships), student loans, and work-study. Other schools do not meet full need, which is called “gapping.”
- What is your packaging policy? Most schools give aid packaging that includes grant money (scholarships), student loans, and work-study. Ask the following questions:
Some schools deduct money earned in outside scholarships from your financial aid package. Some schools reduce your loan burden, but other schools reduce your grant money. Obviously, reducing the loan would be most favorable to you.
What is the policy with regard to non-custodial parents and step-parents? Are they expected to contribute if financially able?
Are there any tuition payments that will allow payment to be spread over a period of months?
What is your policy regarding outside scholarships?
- In general, what percentage of your college’s aid package comes in grants vs. self-help (loans, work-study)?
- How does an aid package change over four years? Some colleges entice freshmen with large grants for the first year and then switch to a much heavier loan burden in subsequent years. Some increase in loans over a four-year period is typical, but you want to avoid a “bait and switch” situation.
- Do you have a “preferential packaging” policy; e.g., if two students have equal demonstrated financial need, do they give more grant aid or a better overall aid package to the student who has a stronger academic profile? Do you give better aid packages to students entering certain fields of study? Do you give comparable aid offers to applicants under early and regular decision programs?
- Do you give any type of merit-based aid (scholarships for students with high academic profiles) regardless of the family’s financial circumstances?