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Answers to Top College Financial Questions

college costs, financial aidFor most families, the biggest concern about their child attending college are college costs. Twenty years ago, many families were able to save more than enough to pay for their child’s higher education.

Unfortunately, college costs have increased at a faster rate than family income, and the amount of state and federal funding received by colleges has declined. More families now apply for and qualify for financial aid, leading to a significant strain on colleges’ institutional budgets.

Financial aid for those with need IS definitely available, but students would be naive to assume that all they need to do is get into a good school, and the money will just fall into place. Families need to be knowledgeable about college costs, and thoroughly understand the financial aid policies of each college on their list.

Here are answers to the top college financial questions I hear:

1. We can’t afford an expensive college, so should I send my child to a state school?

The reality is that more expensive colleges often have very generous financial aid programs, which may result in your out-of-pocket expenses being either the same or less than at a state school.

2. How do we know if we will qualify for financial aid?

The only way you can know for certain is to apply, but you can get an idea by calculating your ‘estimated family contribution’ on several on-line sites such as:

Factors like the number of children in college, family size, and any unusual circumstances are considered in calculating the family contribution.  In the case of divorced parents, federal and state financial aid funds are awarded on the basis of the custodial parent’s information alone; colleges may consider the resources of the noncustodial parent as well, however, before awarding their own institutional funds.

3. If I have financial need, am I guaranteed that it will be met?

No, just as you should have several ‘admissions safety’ schools on your list, I suggest applying to at least one ‘financial safety’ school that would be affordable, even if the financial aid did not meet your needs.

4. What questions should I ask colleges about college costs & financial aid?Scholarships, financial aid, financial need

  1. Are you ‘need blind’ in admissions?  (Are admissions decisions made without regard to financial circumstances?  About 92% of colleges in the U.S. will answer Yes.)
  2. On average, what is the percentage of need that you meet?  Very few colleges can meet 100% of need for every student.
  3. How will my financial aid award compare each year to what I receive for my freshman year? (Some colleges substantially decrease aid packages after a student’s first year).

5. How and when should I apply for financial aid?

Parents must submit information about their family’s financial status through need analysis forms.  You may be required to submit tax returns as well, BUT you do not have to complete your tax return prior to filling out these forms.  These are:

  1. FAFSA:  Should be filed as soon after January 1 as possible.  Many states have a March 1 deadline for filing this form.  https: //
  2. PROFILE:  (required by some colleges.) Should be filed as soon as you know where you will definitely apply for college admission.
  3. The college’s own financial aid form:  Some have these, some don’t.  These should be filed out the same time you complete the FAFSA.

6. When will we hear about financial aid offers?

By early April.

7. Will the award by each college be the same?

Probably not.  The amount of your need met by each college may depend on its budget, the proportion of loans versus grants may vary at different schools, and so on.  Because of this, financial aid applicants often apply to a slightly larger number of schools than average in order to be able to compare aid awards before making a choice.  The college financial aid office has a good worksheet on comparing aid awards.

8. Is it possible to appeal a financial aid award?

Yes, if it would be truly impossible for you to attend that school with the award offered, or if your circumstances have changed since you applied for aid.  If you appeal, you should only do so at the college of your first choice.

9. What happens if I get an outside scholarship?scholarship

If you do win an outside scholarship, you are bound by law to notify the college you plan to attend. Many times the scholarship committee will request contact information from the college and will send the money directly to them.  Colleges are also bound by law to make sure that students don’t receive more money than they need.  Therefore, the amount of the outside scholarship is usually deducted from your financial aid package, sometimes from the loan portion and sometimes, unfortunately, from the grant portion.  Check with your first-choice college to make sure the money will be deducted from any loans that you take out.

Want to know more about how I can help with questions on college costs?  Click here.

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