Financial Aid for College
In your college quest, it will become apparent that colleges come with hefty price tags. Some are more costly than others. Fortunately, there is help available in various ways to finance college costs. At most schools, 40 to 50% of the student body receive some kind of financial aid.
Types of Financial Aid
Financial assistance comes from three principal sources: the federal government, colleges and universities, and a variety of local and national private scholarship programs. When financial assistance is awarded to a student, it usually comes in a “package” of grants, loans and opportunities for on-campus work. In general, the application itself makes a student eligible for merit scholarship, but the family must do the FAFSA to receive any need-based aid.
Financial aid is assistance based solely on need (the family’s ability to pay) versus the cost of attending a college. To determine the amount of need, a college requires parents to submit a financial statement called the FAFSA. This is available at school and online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. A college’s financial aid/scholarship application also may be required in additional to the FAFSA. Many colleges also require the CSS/Financial Aid Profile (http://profileonline.collegeboard.com/index.jsp). These forms should be completed and submitted as soon after January 1 as possible.
The college will try to offer a financial aid package (grants, loans and work-study) that will absorb the difference between the student’s expected expenses (tuition, room, board, transportation, books) and the expected family contribution computed by the scholarship agency. Since college costs vary, the financial aid package also may vary from college to college. The only constant is usually the amount a family is expected to contribute.
In contrast to financial aid, merit scholarships are awards made in recognition of outstanding talent and are not based on need. Leadership, academics, music and athletics are frequently recognized with merit scholarship awards. While international students are not usually eligible for need-based financial aid, they may receive merit scholarships.
Some of the most common grant, loan and work-study programs include:
- College Work-Study Program (CWSP) – a federally-funded program that provides colleges with money to pay for student work on campus. Students must demonstrate financial need to qualify for this program.
- Pell Grant – a federally-funded grant program that provides students with up to $5,350 per year. The program is targeted at low-income families.
- Federal Perkins Loan – a federally-funded, low-interest loan program available through a college’s financial aid office. Students who qualify by demonstrating need may borrow up to $5,500 per year while attending college. The federal government pays the interest payments until the student graduates (or leaves school).
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) – a federally-funded program providing students between $100 and $4,000 per year. These grants are administered directly by individual colleges and are awarded to those students who demonstrate need.
- Social Security Benefits – If one parent is currently receiving Social Security benefits, students are eligible for school benefits providing they are between the ages of 18 and 21, attend college full time and are unmarried.
- Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) – a program for parents of dependent students, providing loans for the difference between the cost of attending college and the amount of financial aid awarded each year. Loans are made based on parent credit-worthiness and are available through local banks.
- Stafford Loan – a subsidized and unsubsidized loan program available to any student enrolled in college. These loans are negotiated through a local bank. If the loan is subsidized, the government pays the interest while the student is in school. If it is unsubsidized, the student pays the interest.
- Several special scholarship programs also deserve mention. The National Merit Scholarship Program, based on student performance on the PSAT, annually awards more than 8,000 scholarships. A similar program for black American students, the National Achievement Scholarship Program, awards grants based on PSAT performance.
- A variety of local and state scholarships are available, as well as resources for computer-based national scholarship research. The College office will send out information on local and state scholarships in January of the senior year.
Overview of Steps in Financial Aid Process
- October, junior year: Take the PSAT to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.
- September, senior year: Read the financial aid information of those colleges to which you are applying. Contact the director of financial aid for information about aid programs and special scholarships. Ask whether any special applications are necessary.
- Between January 1 and February 1, senior year: File the FAFSA and CSS/Financial Aid Profile (if required). Both forms can be completed online. Keep a copy for your records.
- January – March: Review carefully the acknowledgements sent by FAFSA and CSS and make sure all information is correct. Make sure you have filed all individual financial aid applications for the colleges to which you are applying. Due dates are usually the same as those for admission applications. Review your award letter carefully and address any questions to the director of financial aid.
Financial Aid Websites
- www.fafsa.ed.gov – The FAFSA is used for federal loans, grant and work-study, and state and college aid.
- www.finaid.org – Free source for information on loans, scholarships and more.
- www.fastweb.com – Best scholarship search engine.
- http://profileonline.collegeboard.com – The CSS/Financial Aid Profile is used by some colleges to calculate financial aid. You should check the website of each college to which you are applying to see if they require this form.
A Typical Financial Aid Package
- Federal Perkins Loan $ 2,000
- *Presidential Scholarship 10,000
- *Scholar Grant 10,000
- **Federal Work-Study 2,500
- Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan 3,500
- Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan 2,500
- Total $ 30,500
(*) Does not need to be paid back.
(**) Paid directly to the student; does not offset tuition bills.
Read all details carefully and call the college’s Financial Aid office with any questions.