The purpose of student financial assistance is to supplement the family’s monetary resources to enable the student to afford a college education.
Concerns about financing higher education are often uppermost in a student’s mind during the college selection process. While ideally students should select a college based on other factors − academic program, reputation, size, location, special programs − in reality the final decision often is determined by cost. Although the financial aid application process may seem complicated and the results do not always meet expectations, the system does work for many students.
Don’t give up because you think you can’t afford it or because you think the process is difficult. Go for the schools you want, not just the ones you think you can afford. Look into a variety of financial aid opportunities. The information outlined in this section will help you get started.
Applying for financial aid does not jeopardize your chance of being admitted to a school.
Need financial help? Many students and their families cannot pay the full cost of college without some financial aid. Even families with large incomes frequently need help at higher-priced colleges. If you and your family feel that you may need financial help, the very first and most urgent task is to complete an application known as the FAFSA. All federal and state financial aid awards require completion of the FAFSA. In addition, if you also choose to apply for institutional funds, you may have to complete any special application forms required by the colleges you are considering to determine your eligibility. It is very important that you contact the financial aid offices to obtain these special forms.
How the FAFSA process works: It is critical to file your FAFSA early because the information collected is used to determine an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) by you and your family toward a year of college. Information that will be reviewed includes your family income, family size, number of family members in college, assets, debts and allowable expenses. Results of the calculations will be sent to you and the financial aid office at the college(s) you request. You can learn more about this procedure from your guidance counselor, the college financial aid office, at www.act.org, or at www.collegeboard.org. The ACT website also provides a worksheet to help you estimate what your EFC may be.
Do not pay anyone to complete the FAFSA for you. See your guidance counselor of financial aid officer if you need help.
You are strongly encouraged to file your FAFSA early and online because it saves time in this time-critical process. If you file your FAFSA online, both you and your parents are each required to obtain a separate Personal Identification Number (PIN) at www.pin.ed.gov.
Apply early. Filing your FAFSA early is especially important for high school seniors. Some college deadlines may fall as early as January or February of your senior high school year so be sure to inquire about deadlines at your prospective school(s). While you and your parent(s) may not file your federal taxes until April, you can and should use estimates of your prior year incomes in order to meet deadlines. Income figures can be corrected later, if necessary. You may be asked to submit copies of tax documents to your school(s). Respond to all requests promptly for your financial aid to be accurate and finalized.
Be Aggressive. Money doesn’t automatically come to anybody. It must be found. There is financial aid available, but you must apply for it. Financial aid resources can offset the price gap between higher- and lower-priced colleges.
Check further. While the FAFSA provides the information required to determine eligibility for most college and federal aid funds, other sources of aid may require special application forms from you. Your high school counselor and college financial aid office are excellent sources of information and opportunities for college funding. It is very important that you contact the financial aid offices to obtain any special forms (CSS Profile, etc.)
An important point to remember as you initiate this process is that reasonable family contributions are expected. Contrary to widespread myths, no one in the financial aid business assumes that a family should have to sell the house, cash in all their retirement funds, or be driven to bankruptcy to finance a college education. On the other hand, financial aid is viewed as a supplement, not an alternative to family support. Normal family budgets may have to be adjusted, sometimes uncomfortably, in order to meet expected contributions.
The aid package may consist of grants, scholarships, entitlements, loans, employment and private funds.
Every family is unique. Even though a standard formula is used to analyze your family’s financial situation, individual circumstances may be considered when your application for aid is reviewed by the college financial aid office.
Be prepared to help yourself. Make sure the college of your choice knows your financial needs. If a college accepts you for admission, it will try to help you make your education affordable.
If you are admitted and have applied for financial aid, the college financial aid office will attempt to arrange an aid package that may meet your financial need. Your eligibility for assistance will vary from college to college based on the cost of attendance at that specific school.
If you are eligible and funds are available, the package will probably include various types of aid in an attempt to meet your eligibility. Aid packages from different colleges will likely be structured in different ways and may also vary in size. Some may have less grant and more loan assistance, or less loan but more work-study aid. If you receive aid packages from more than one college, you will want to compare them carefully.
There are several sources for free information on scholarships and grants. Other than your high school guidance office, there may be specific information on local competitive programs available in your public library. In addition to National or State scholarships, there may be smaller scholarships available only in your community, such as from the Rotary Club, a museum, your local library, etc. Other possible sources for money could be your church, your parents’ workplaces, othercommunity organizations. They may be able to assist you with the last dollars you need for your personal expenses over and above the cost of tuition & books.
Search online. Online resources are available for scholarship and general financial aid information. Some helpful scholarship search pages can be found at www.collegeboard.com/paying and at www.fastweb.com. Also check out the other websites listed on this site at Helpful Links.
Please be aware that companies or consultants that offer college scholarship search services generally may be charging you for information that is readily available and free. CAUTION: You should never have to pay money to find money.
- The early bird gets the worm. Apply early and take deadlines seriously.
- Apply to schools you want, not just ones you think you can afford; you might be surprised.
- Complete the FAFSA and other requested forms carefully and promptly. Keep copies for your records.
- Every dollar helps! Investigate other forms of aid (e.g., online scholarship searches, library resources, local business/civic organizations, etc.).
- Ask for help. Talk to a college financial aid counselor if you have questions.