From the Superintendent’s Seat:
Facing the College Financial Aid Challenge
If you are a high school senior, you should be about finished sending off those applications by now. Deciding which schools to apply to is a difficult choice to make. That is certainly a relief to have that done.
Now, you can put more of your attention on the second hardest question to answer: How are you going to pay for it? In many cases you will not have all your acceptance information until April, but your financial aid applications can be filed now.
Although your college applications may be due on or about January first, many financial aid applications require you to have completed this year’s tax return, so the deadline for these applications is later. It is imperative that you obtain the current forms for each program and that you provide all information requested on the forms and meet all deadlines. Your best sources for these are your child’s guidance office and the Internet.
There are several different ways that schools categorize financial aid. There is “need-based aid,” which is determined by the college and takes into consideration your income, the amount of children you have in college, and the cost of the school. It does not consider the amount of your mortgage or other debt, even if these are significant factors in your ability to pay tuition. Unfortunately, your definition of need may not be the same as the school’s definition, but you won’t know how close you are until you try. Further, many schools require parents to file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or a CSS (College Scholarship Service Profile) even if you are only asking to be considered for “merit-based aid.”
Merit aid, also called scholarship or grant money, is awarded to students based on their academic and other qualifications and it does not have to be repaid. Also under the financial aid category are low-interest loans, which do have to be repaid, and work/study positions, in which a student is given a job (often on campus) for which he or she is paid a salary that is expected to go toward school costs. Realize that loans offered by the school are not automatically the least costly way to borrow money, and that accepting admission to the school does not obligate you to accept the school’s loan offers.
The number of specialized scholarship programs and grants is tremendous. Your school should be able to provide you with a list of scholarships and websites you may consult to determine if your student is eligible for these. Our district’s financial aid brochure lists the following ways that your student may qualify to receive aid.
• You can demonstrate financial need
• Your student has outstanding academic ability and/or test scores
• Your student has unique talents in music, art, athletics…
• You are members of certain organizations, groups, unions, etc., that provide scholarships to eligible children of members
The one thing you can fully count on in planning for financial aid is that you will probably be surprised by the actual financial aid packages you ultimately receive. If you are counting on merit aid, consider that your best chances for receiving them would be from a school to which your student comfortably meets or exceeds their student profile in terms of grades and test scores. Good luck!#