Most families are concerned about the rising cost of college and the value of their investment in their child’s higher education. Despite this scenario, many students enrolled in all types of colleges and universities do receive financial assistance directly from colleges or from government sources. In fact, with declines in federal and state aid, colleges and universities remain the single largest provider of grants, employment, loans, payment plans, and other resources. Many of the most selective and financially well-endowed colleges have financial aid policies that reduce or eliminate student loans or offer substantial grant aid to families below certain income levels.
Before assuming the “sticker price” of a given college is out of reach, we encourage you to learn more about the aid resources at colleges that interest you and to explore options for financial assistance. It is well worth your time to carefully read about individual financial aid policies and programs at each college under consideration. One such resource: http://projectonstudentdebt.org/pc_institution.php
Learn More – GRS College Application and Financial Aid Session
Our annual College Application and Financial Aid Session will be on Saturday, November 16, 2013 from 10:00am to 12:00pm. Featuring several college admissions advisers as guest speakers, the program helps parents understand the application and financial aid process, plus gain advice on scholarships and paying for college. Although this event is designed for junior students and families, it is open to everyone in the GRS community.
- “The Financial Aid Handbook: Getting the Education You Want for the Price You Can Afford” – Carol Stack and Ruth Vedvik (2011)
- “Paying for College Without Going Broke” – Kalman Chany (Princeton Review
Estimating your Family Contribution
As of October 2011, all colleges are required to have an online “Net Price Calculator,” typically found on the colleges’ financial aid webpage. These calculators are intended to help families estimate the family contribution – from parent and student resources, including borrowing potential – towards college expenses at that college. Bear in mind that the results are just an estimate; the figures may be customized for the given college’s approach to assessing financial need, but may not reflect eligibility for merit-based scholarships, if offered by the college. Use the “NPC” to get a relative sense of how your family’s ability to pay for college may be assessed. Be sure to ask questions about college costs, and even meet with a financial aid officer when visiting colleges.
Another online calculator is the “FAFSA4caster” (fafsa4caster.ed.gov) used to estimate the family contribution or ability to pay for college using a basic federal formula in the FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid – that is required at all colleges. Some of the more selective private colleges with generous grant resources require an additional form called the CSS PROFILE in addition to FAFSA, found at profileonline.collegeboard.com which also has an online calculator.
When and how to apply for financial aid
Well before their child applies to college, parents should educate themselves about college financial aid, starting with the resources linked on this page. The actual financial aid application forms cannot be submitted until January of senior year. These forms are submitted online, and require some early organization of your annual income tax paperwork since many of the questions asked draw from fields on the tax forms. Be aware that colleges may require submission of copies of federal tax forms as part of the “verification” process.
During senior fall, students and parents start by obtaining a PIN number and opening an account on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Financial Aid)web site. Also familiarize yourself with CSS PROFILE if required by your colleges. (On the CSS Profile webpage (profileonline.collegeboard.org) is a link to a list of participating colleges.) Most colleges require that FAFSA and PROFILE be submitted around February 1, but deadlines vary by college. Always check individual college financial aid web pages for financial aid deadlines and specific required forms. Above all, do not miss deadlines. If a deadline approaches and you do not yet have the necessary tax forms to use in completing financial aid forms, the best advice is to submit FAFSA and PROFILE using estimated financial information. You will have an opportunity to update your figures when reviewing the student aid report returned to you from FAFSA.
Scholarships from sources other than the colleges
Most scholarship research is done online via substantial databases of scholarship resources. While most scholarship forms may not be due until senior year, you can absolutely “work ahead” by researching possible scholarships that match your profile. Also note a few scholarship forms may be due in junior spring.
The key to winning private scholarships is finding programs – often local or based on very specific personal interests – where you may be a very good match with the award criteria, then putting in the work to apply to several such scholarships. The College Counselor has many specific scholarships and links to scholarships in print form as well. Also see the weblinks below for scholarship search tools. Remember to check parents’ employers, professional associations, or labor unions for available grants or scholarships. Community organizations, fraternal groups, and churches also may be worth investigating for special opportunities.
Timing: Many private scholarship applications are due in late fall of winter or senior year, generally after admission applications have been filed. Some have earlier deadlines, and a few are targeted to high school juniors.
Never pay for “scholarship search”: We do not recommend the use of scholarship search services that charge a fee for providing a list of award programs. Such services offer little substantive information; some are scams. Do consult web sites with free information and guidebooks. Pay particular attention to application deadlines. Realize that searching and applying for financial aid takes time and effort, but the results can be very beneficial.
Web Links for Researching Scholarships and Savings Plans:
- FastWeb — One of the most comprehensive and well-regarded scholarship search sites
- Finaid.org — Advice on financial aid terms, forms, strategies, and scholarship search
- NASFAA — Advice from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
- MHESO — Minnesota Office of Higher Education
- http://www.meritaid.com/ – lets you search colleges based on types of merit aid awarded.
- http://www.cappex.com/ – College and Scholarship search tool
- Scholarship America — An organization that administers many private scholarships
- Guaranteed Scholarships — Web links to various colleges’ “guaranteed” scholarships, usually based on minimum GPA, test scores, or other personal factors
- Guide to 529 Savings Plans — Tax-advantaged, prepaid college savings plans sponsored by various states
- Independent 529 Plan – non state-specific
- fafsa.ed.gov – Find worksheets and application information for the FAFSA (Federal Student Financial Aid Application)
- navigatemn.org - For undocumented students who need financial assistance
- Financial Aid Presentation – part 1
- Financial Aid Presentation – Part 2