Financial Aid 101
In addition to weighing factors like location and campus environment, financial aid is a significant consideration for the majority of college applicants. Students must choose schools that are all-around best-fits for their needs and goals, both academically and financially.
At first glance, many prospective applicants may find the college financial aid process a bit overwhelming. Keep reading to learn more about how the financial aid process works, what to consider throughout your college search, and the top tips to keep in mind.
Much like college campuses, financial aid options are not one-size-fits-all. In fact, there are several types of assistance. Understanding the difference between each is crucial for evaluating your options, so we’ve broken them down below:
Grants: Grants are a form of financial aid that doesn’t require repayment. There are several different federal grants available, including Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants.
Scholarships: Many nonprofit and private organizations offer scholarships to help students pay for college. Frequently, this type of assistance is awarded based on academic merit, talent, or a particular area of study. High school students can begin searching for scholarships that align with their interests and goals and get a jump-start on applications during their senior year.
Work-study: Students who qualify for Federal Student Aid may be eligible to participate in a work-study program, in which participants can earn money towards their tuition expenses by working part-time, typically on their college campus.
Loans: When a student takes out a loan, they are borrowing money to attend a college. Loans must be repaid as well as interest that accrues. It is important to review your payment options with your family to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The first step in every student’s financial aid journey is filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form is available via the Department of Education’s website and can be completed as early as October 1st for the following academic year. While the official deadline for the FAFSA is not until June 30th, it’s often in students’ best interest to get an early start on the application process.
Filling out the FAFSA is an opportunity to sit down as a family and have a discussion about what a financial best-fit college might look like. In addition to completing the information required by the form, strive to have an honest conversation about what’s financially feasible and how you plan to bridge any potential gaps. Review the Net Price Calculator available on the website of most colleges and universities to gain additional clarity about the potential price tag associated with the colleges on your best-fit list.
Take it a Step Further
While the FAFSA should be a student’s first step in securing federal aid, it’s not always the last form on an applicant’s to-do list. There are about 250 schools, mainly private colleges, that require a supplemental document known as the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS) to determine how to give out their own financial aid funds. The form is more detailed than the FAFSA, and in turn, can take more time to complete. Research the financial aid policy for each school on your best-fit list to determine whether you will need to fill out the CSS Profile. If you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to reach out to the Financial Aid Office at the college you are interested in to make sure you get your questions answered.
While applying for financial aid may seem confusing initially, students who do their research and strive to find answers to their questions can feel confident about their process. If you are unclear about financial aid and looking for personalized information, get in touch with our team of college admissions experts.