Need-Based Financial Aid | Application Materials | Institutional Forms | Other Requirements | Early Decision Candidates | Questions | Award Packages | Merit Scholarships | Additional Financing Options | Renewal of Aid
Financing a college education is becoming increasingly difficult for many families. If you believe you will need financial assistance in order to attend college, be sure to acquaint yourself with the procedures that must be followed in applying for financial aid. All colleges have their own requirements for financial aid applicants, so be sure to research financial aid information from each school you are interested in. It is the responsibility of the student and her parents to keep on top of all financial aid deadlines.
Some background on financial aid:
Need-based financial aid exists in an effort to provide access to higher education for qualified students regardless of their financial circumstances. Awarded based on demonstrated financial need, need-based financial aid is used to make up the difference between what a family can pay and the total cost of education (tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and some personal expenses). In determining what a family can afford, the need-analysis systems work under the principle that students and their parents bear the primary responsibility for financing education costs to the full extent that they are able; families are expected to make sacrifices in order to pay for
There are two primary formulas used to determine a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid. The Federal Methodology is used to determine eligibility for all federal grants and loans as well as most state aid. All students applying for need-based financial aid must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Institutional Methodology, used by many colleges and universities to award their own funds, considers some financial information not taken into account by the Federal Methodology. The College Scholarship Service (CSS) Financial Aid PROFILE is used by many schools to collect the data needed to employ the Institutional Methodology.
The single most important factor in determining aid eligibility for most families is parental income. Other factors may include non-discretionary expenses (such as taxes, medical expenses, and basic living expenses), parental assets, the student’s assets, and the number of children attending college. Every college should have a NET PRICE CALCULATOR available on their website, which offers an ESTIMATE of financial aid, based on the data submitted. The College Board also has a Net Price Calculator function, with many participating institutions, available on its website; please see netpricecalculator.collegeboard.org/ and studentnpc.collegeboard.org/ for more information.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Used for U.S. government grants and loans, federal work-study, many state grants, and, for some schools, institutional financial aid, this form must be completed by every financial aid applicant and can be filed online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov
College Scholarship Service Financial Aid PROFILE
Used by some schools to award institutional aid (grants and loans from individual colleges/universities), this form should be completed only if the college/university to which you are applying requires it. It is available online at https://profileonline.collegeboard.com
Some colleges/universities use their own form(s) in addition to or instead of the PROFILE. Institutional forms will vary considerably with some covering only basic biographical information and others asking for detailed financial information.
Most colleges/universities require other documentation or information from financial aid applicants, including federal tax forms (for the student and the parent(s)), W-2 forms, Divorced/Separated Parents’ Statement (see below for more information), and the Business/Farm Supplement (see below). Please check each individual school’s requirements.
Many colleges and universities will also require information from the non-custodial parent with the expectation that s/he will contribute to college expenses to the extent s/he is able. Many of these colleges use the College Board’s Divorced/Separated Parents’ Statement which should be available from the schools’ financial aid offices.
Business And Farm Owners
Parents who own a business or a farm, or who are otherwise self-employed, may be required to complete a Business/Farm Supplement in addition to the PROFILE. The form is available from the financial aid offices of the colleges/universities that require the form.
Early Decision Candidates
It is critical that ED candidates communicate directly with the college financial aid office. In most cases, you will be required to complete the PROFILE in the fall, and you may also need to complete other institutional forms. The college will likely give you an estimate of your financial aid package at the time of admission. Your aid award will likely not become official until after you have filed a FAFSA (after January 1) in order to become eligible for the federal and any state programs already estimated in your financial aid package.
If you are unsure about any aspect of the financial aid application process, be sure to seek help. Contact the financial aid offices of the colleges to which you are applying. Each financial aid officer knows his/her own school’s particular policies and procedures better than anyone else and is, therefore, in the best position to answer your questions. Don’t be shy!
Once the admissions office has decided to admit a student and the financial aid office has determined that she qualifies for financial aid, the financial aid office will put together her financial aid package, comprised of several different types of financial assistance:
Federal, state, and institutional grants are financial aid awards that typically do not have to be repaid.
Frequently interest-free during enrollment, student loans must be repaid, with interest, over several years following graduation. Subsidized Stafford Loans and Perkins Loans are need-based loans on which the federal government pays the interest while the student is enrolled in college and for six months after graduation. Students may also qualify for an unsubsidized Stafford Loan.
The vast majority of financial aid recipients will be expected to hold part-time (usually around 10 hours per week) campus jobs in areas such as the library, academic departments, food services, administrative offices, etc.
Note: Many financial aid packages combine loans and work-study under the heading “Self-Help” and some schools allow students some discretion as to the ratio of loan to work. In comparing financial aid awards from different schools, it is important to look not only at the total family contribution but also to compare the types of aid offered; the ratio of grants to self-help (loans and work) may vary significantly.
Note: Not all schools guarantee that they will meet the full need of every admitted applicant. Most schools that are unable to fund everyone practice “gapping,” meeting less than the full need of some or all applicants. Other schools that are unable to offer aid to some applicants choose to deny admission instead. Still others practice a policy under which a student is admitted to an institution but denied aid or put on a waiting list for financial aid.
College-sponsored merit scholarships are awarded to students based on academic achievement (in general or in a specific discipline); geographic, ethnic, or racial diversity; a particular talent (artistic, athletic, etc.); extracurricular involvement (community service, for example), scholarship examinations, etc. They are not based on demonstrated financial need, though, in some cases, financial need is a consideration. Schools differ widely in the number and size of scholarships offered. Merit scholarships are also available from a wide variety of non-school groups or organizations (for example, religious organizations, corporations, and foundations). Information on many such scholarships is available in the College Office, on Naviance, and online. You are also encouraged to explore other scholarship opportunities via the internet, the public library, etc.
For recipients of need-based financial aid, merit scholarships will be incorporated into the aid package. Each institution will adjust aid packages according to its own policies, but generally, schools are unable to use the scholarship to reduce the federally-determined family contribution. Most schools will take one or more of the following approaches:
- If the need-based financial aid package does not meet the full need of the student, the scholarship can be used to fill the “gap.”
- The scholarship may replace self-help (loans and work-study) funds.
- The scholarship may be used to reduce the institutional grant.
If you receive notification of an outside scholarship after you have received your financial aid award, schools typically require that you inform their financial aid office of your scholarship. The school will then often prepare a revised financial aid award which takes into account the additional scholarship funds.
A note about private scholarship search services: many promise to locate scholarships for which you are eligible, for a fee. In most cases, the same information can be gathered for free from colleges, the internet, or your local public library.
Many colleges offer individual payment plans allowing monthly payments of the annual fees. There are also a variety of loans available to assist in the financing of educational expenses. Individual financial aid offices are typically the best source of information about these programs. Sometimes families who have equity in their homes find that a home equity loan may offer the most favorable terms because of possible tax advantages. Students and families are encouraged to be assertive in exploring with their college financial aid administrator all possible financing options.
Most (though not all) colleges guarantee four years of financial aid to all students who initially enroll with financial aid, as long as they file the required application forms and continue to demonstrate financial need. Schools often adjust the loan components of the package as the student gets closer to graduation (for example, reducing grant aid and increasing self-help), and some schools have academic and discipline-related standards attached to their financial aid awards. If the student’s GPA falls below a certain level, for example, her financial aid would be reduced or eliminated. Make sure that you understand a college’s policies on renewal of aid before accepting an initial award.