Monday, January 12, 2015

Understanding Financial Aid

No question about it, college is expensive. While there are still ways to make a college degree very affordable, these options are often impractical or undesirable for students and families, many of whom are looking not just for a college degree, but also a "college experience". For a lot of families, high college expenses translates to the need for financial aid. 

Financial aid comes in two main forms: Scholarships (based on merit or need) and loans (for the student, parents, or both). Families with lower incomes may also be eligible for federal grants.

For those at or above the middle-income threshold, scholarships are usually the best option to offset college costs. These days, the majority of scholarships that carry significant award amounts are given by the colleges themselves. Typically, students are considered for scholarships just by applying for admission. In some cases, colleges offer additional scholarships that require separate applications, so it is important to explore what is available. 

Outside scholarships are also available, though they usually carry smaller award amounts. Still, they can be worth applying for; if it takes an hour to write an essay for a $1,000 scholarship and you get it, you've just made $1,000 in an hour! Keep in mind, though, that many colleges reduce the amount of the loans and scholarships they offer if you receive outside funds. Check with the financial aid offices of the colleges you've applied to to learn about their policies. 

If you are applying for financial aid (and, in some cases, if you are hoping to receive just merit scholarships) you will need to submit the FAFSACSS Profile, or both. Check the financial aid pages of each school's website or contact their office to learn what is needed. Deadlines for these documents vary by college, but are usually in late January to mid-February. It is crucial that deadlines be met!

If you have a complex financial situation or feel more comfortable with professional financial aid guidance, there are many certified financial planners who specialize in financial aid. Most families, however, are able to navigate the process with a basic level of support. 

You can also find workshops and support in your community, often through your student's school or at the local library. Online webinars and resources are also available, including an upcoming series by Fred Amrein, a financial aid specialist who provides training to professional organizations for college consultants. Learn more here. 

Have questions about the financial aid process? I'm here to help. Get in touch and let's create a strategy to get the most out of your college dollars. 

Financial Aid Resources
Scholarship Search Engines



Scholarship Monkey

College Board

Financial Aid Information

Forbes 2017 Guide to College Financial Aid

hat You Don't Know About Financial Aid (But Should)