Navigating the realm of college financial aid can be daunting, and the sticker price of many universities can come as a shock to many potential students and their families. But luckily, for many students, there are a number of opportunities available for financial aid to make earning a degree an affordable endeavor.
However, there are a number of things students and their parents should address now to prepare for the financial aid application process. One of the most important conversations regarding financial aid needs to happen at home. Students and their parents need to establish a college budget for all four years of anticipated attendance and plan how much money they are willing to spend out-of-pocket on tuition, as well as other expenses, such as room and board, dining plans and textbooks. Knowing your price point ahead of time can help your counselor better serve you when developing your college list. Here are a few additional tips to help you and your family prepare for the application process and get the right financial aid to fund your college dream.
Understand the Types of Financial Aid
Financial aid is money that can be awarded to students, and their families, to help pay for the cost of college and accompanying expenses. Financial aid can be awarded in the form of grants, scholarships, federal and private loans or through work-study programs, and may be qualified as need-based or merit-based aid. Need-based financial aid is awarded on an individual basis and is based on the financial need of a student's family, determined by a number of financial factors. Alternatively, merit-based financial aid focuses more heavily on a student's academic achievements, athletic talents or artistic abilities, and may disregard a student's financial need.
Investigate Scholarship Options
Due to a family’s circumstances, students may not qualify for much federal or institution sponsored financial aid, if any. But that doesn't mean that there aren't other opportunities to help finance their college dreams! Scholarships, which are a type of financial support awarded on the basis of academic merit or other established criteria, are a great tool to help lower out-of-pocket costs and cover any additional expenses. Scholarships can be awarded through specific educational institutions or outside organizations. A number of employers may also offer scholarships or even tuition reimbursement programs to qualifying students, so be sure to do your homework and explore every avenue of financial aid available!
Pay Attention to Requirements
Every type of financial aid is subject to different deadlines, requirements and qualifications. Some grants or scholarships require that students maintain a certain GPA or complete a certain amount of credit hours per semester, so be sure to familiarize yourself with these requirements to ensure that you can receive—and keep—your financial aid.
Be Prepared to Meet Deadlines
Though many high school seniors are still filling out college applications and narrowing down their top choices of universities, it's not too early to start applying for financial aid! Each year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS) applications, which are used by a number of universities nation-wide for disbursing financial aid, open on Oct. 1. Having the necessary financial information, such as tax documents and W-2s, readily available can help students and their parents fill out applications on-time, meet priority deadlines and avoid any future delays in financial aid disbursement.
These applications will need to be updated and resubmitted each year, so be sure to mark your calendar and be mindful that these deadlines are reoccurring.
Be Open to Communication
Openly communicating with a college's Financial Aid Department is a crucial aspect of the financial aid process. You'll need to be honest about your financial records and come prepared with up-to-date information. If you have any questions throughout the financial aid application or disbursement processes, you'll need to contact a financial aid representative, so it's essential to establish a good relationship and open communication early on to ensure you get the help you need.
To learn more about college financial aid, we invite all senior students and their parents to join us for Senior Financial Aid Night, presented by the Cardinal Gibbons Guidance Department, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. in the Chapel of the Holy Family, located in Gibbons Hall. Don't miss out on this opportunity to learn about important financial aid topics, including sticker price vs. net price, Expected Family Contribution (EFC), Florida Bright Futures Scholarships and upcoming application deadlines. Underclassmen and their parents will have the opportunity to attend a College Financial Aid Presentation on Jan. 15, 2019.
For more information on college financial aid and the application process, please schedule a college planning appointment with your designated guidance counselor.