Just Admit It: What Do Students and Families Need to Know About the Financial Aid Process?
In addition to navigating the college admissions cycle, students and families need to prepare for the costs of college and understand the financial aid process. Much like admissions, there are a few steps that go into applying for financial aid, and it’s important that students understand every component of the process.
Since going to college is one of the most significant financial decisions people will make in their lifetimes, there’s no such thing as learning too much about college financial aid. Keep reading for some crucial insights from our admissions counselors – and don’t forget to tune in to our Just Admit It! podcast episode about financial aid.
Fill Out the FAFSA ASAP
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the first and most important components of the financial aid process. Rather than leaving this task for parents to complete, families should use the FAFSA as an opportunity to sit down together to discuss the costs associated with going to college. While some parents might want to shield their students from worrying about money, it’s best to make sure everyone is on the same page so that your applicant has a realistic idea of what kind of aid they will need. The FAFSA opens on October 1 and it’s generally beneficial to fill out and submit the form as soon as possible in order to maximize the amount of aid you will be eligible for.
Take Advantage of the Net Price Calculator
Many families understand that they won’t be expected to pay the sticker price for tuition, but they might be unsure about how much they will actually need to pay. To help shed some light on this, all colleges are required to include a Net Price Calculator, which students can use to estimate how much they will be expected to pay based on their unique financial circumstances and background. After filling out a few questions, the Net Price Calculator will generate an estimate of how much a student will likely need to pay, based on their Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which their FAFSA application determines.
Understand What Meeting Demonstrated Financial Need Means
Out of the over 3,000 colleges in the United States, very few are able to guarantee that they will be able to meet every student’s full financial needs. In fact, it’s not uncommon for colleges to only be able to meet around 40% of a student’s demonstrated need, even at top-tier universities. Even when schools do say they meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, some of these colleges may achieve this via loans, which students will ultimately need to repay.
Weigh Your Financial Aid Packages
Financial aid isn’t linear and it’s also not all free money. Financial aid consists of loans and work-study programs, in addition to scholarships and grants. Consequently, it’s important to consider every component of each financial aid package that you receive, instead of just focusing on a single number. If financial aid is an important consideration during your application process, make sure to keep your options open when it comes to researching universities and building your balanced college list. Do your research about which schools are likely to be able to provide substantial financial aid as well as institutions where you may be eligible to receive merit aid based on your academic performance. Keep an open mind throughout the application process so that you can choose the institution that best fits both your academic and financial needs.
Since the financial aid process can feel overwhelming, it’s important to start early and do your research. If you’re looking for additional guidance on finding your best-fit colleges, our team is here to help.