Clearly stated—a college education is expensive. As college costs continue to escalate, families understandably are growing more and more concerned about just how they will pay for it all. A $50,000+ price tag is not uncommon these days for the total cost of one year of college at a private school. While costs at state schools are indeed lower, they too are on the rise. While we urge you not to go through the college search process with cost as the primary factor, we do recognize the importance of aid in the final decision.
The Financial Aid process is unfortunately clouded with mystery and misinformation and too often families miss out on opportunities because they have not followed instructions or felt overwhelmed by the process. Financial Aid really is pretty basic—you are either eligible for need-based aid or you are not. The government and individual schools award money based on an analysis of your families’ need. This is done by looking at the total income and assets—bank accounts, stocks, bonds, other investments, inheritances, trusts and possibly the value of your home for your family.
Once you have filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that is a summary of your potential for need-based federal student aid. On your SAR, you will see an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) listed. This is the important figure as it tells you what you will be expected to pay towards your college education and it remains the same figure whether your school’s costs are $30,000 or $12,000. Financial Aid really is then the money (in the form of grant, loan and work study) that is awarded to bridge the gap between your EFC and the total cost of the school.
There are a variety of ways to approach this information. Rather than attempting to explain the entire process in this forum, we will offer some general guidelines, address the questions we receive most often, provide definitions for essential terms, provide a useful worksheet and list a number of resources. The absolute key to financial aid is doing your homework and staying on top of deadlines.
- There is a difference between “need-based” aid and “want-based” aid.
- There are some scholarships and aid awarded on the basis of need and others awarded based on merit.
- Financial Aid awards are given for one school year. You must re-apply each subsequent year; it is therefore a good idea to get to know the financial aid officers at your school. They want to help you make it work and it may well benefit you if you can get their help.
- Need-based aid is awarded in packages consisting of grants, loans and work-study. Individual schools can “play” with the relative levels of the components, but the total award should be roughly the same at every school.
- Receiving aid from Bullis doesn’t guarantee that you will be eligible for need-based aid in college. It also does not guarantee that you will be awarded aid in a similar proportion to the cost of the school; Bullis may in fact award more aid by proportion.
- Check the “Scholarship File” in the College Counseling Office for the latest information we have. You might also ask your parents to investigate whether their employers or organizations to which they belong offer any scholarships.
- Numerous schools offer extensive Merit Aid programs that are worth looking into. Some of these programs require special applications while others are awarded automatically upon receipt of your application.
- If you have a job, talk to your employer about scholarship opportunities available through their company.
- Check in the College Counseling Office for financial information from either the Maryland or Virginia commissions on higher education.
- There are a relatively small number of truly “need-blind” colleges and as such admission officers do sometimes consider how much a student will cost them if admitted. Such decisions usually occur in the absolute final stages of shaping the class and will not include students who are clearly admissible based on academic qualifications. Because of this situation, students should apply to several colleges where their credentials will place them among the strongest in the applicant pool.
- It is possible for a school to admit you but not award you any aid, or to provide you with an aid package that meets only a portion of your overall need. This process known as “gapping” is unfortunately becoming more prevalent.
- You should absolutely ask questions about a school’s financial aid policies during visits or discussions with admission representatives. You need to know if they are “need blind” or not or whether they have a merit scholarship program.
- If you know financial aid will be important in your ultimate decision about where to go, you must include a financial aid “safety” on your list of schools. This “safety” must be a sure thing or foundation school for you in terms of admission as well. A state school often fits this bill.
- Always, always, always make and keep copies of all financial forms you submit.
- If you run into questions about aid after you have submitted your forms and an admission application, you should feel good about calling the financial aid office at one of your schools.
- You should ask admission officers how their financial aid packages will change during your tenure at their school. Do they “front load” their packages, making them more attractive at the start as a recruiting tool and then not give as much in subsequent years? Or, do they adjust financial aid packages along with rises in overall costs? Do they change your package based on your academic performance?
- It is perfectly acceptable to call the financial aid office after receiving your award letter to seek clarification or to appeal an award, or in the case of new or changed information.
- Rarely is it worth hiring a financial aid consultant to help you with this process. As a general rule, if a company asks you to pay for a scholarship search or opportunity, beware.
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is required for anyone applying for financial aid. It is due as soon after January 1 of your senior year as possible. You can indicate the schools you want to receive this report when filing or make these additions later.
- Many private institutions and agencies also require the CSS Profile form. Filing with this form is a two-step process that can begin early in the fall of the senior year. When you submit the form, you should indicate to which schools you want a report sent.
- Apply online at: www.fafsa.ed.gov and www.collegeboard.org/profile/
- Some schools also require their own institutional form often found in their application packets.
- Residents of the District of Columbia should contact the Mayor’s Tuition Assistance Grant Program: www.tuitiongrant.dc.gov, (202) 727-2824.
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