The number of requests for financial aid at colleges increases every year. Beginning in your junior year, pay attention to the financial aid workshops offered by your high schools.
The first thing you should do is obtain a CSS Profile from the Guidance Office, usually in October. Look for the colleges you are considering on the back pages, note their code numbers and then register. Call the number printed on the form or go online. There are fees associated with this financial aid form. Some colleges use only CSS, others use the FAFSA (we’ll get to that in a minute), and others will want both. In any case, begin with the CSS.
In mid-December, you’ll be able to pick up a copy of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in your Guidance Office or online; don’t even think of sending it in until after the first of the year. We strongly advise that your parent(s) make a January appointment with their tax advisor; in the world of financial aid, timing is essential. Don’t delay filing these forms; make sure they are sent in by February 1st.
Don’t assume that if your parent(s) make over $150,000 annually, you will not be eligible for any financial aid. This is not always the case. Families have different circumstances that impact financial aid decisions. There is money available; the Financial Aid office of your colleges will answer your questions as well as dispense the funding.
Actually, it’s their JOB to give money to students! But there are many, many deserving students in the world – so be honest with yourself and step into their shoes. Are they going to give money to you because you’re a nice kid, or are they going to give aid to a nice kid who is needy? What would you do? Just because you want financial aid doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. Conversely, just because your family makes six figures doesn’t mean you’re not going to get it. In part, it depends on whether or not the college wants you!
Again, be honest and don’t take the chance of lying on the application.
College financial aid awards are called "packages". That means they are part scholarship or grant, part student loan, part parent loan and part work-study. Once you send in your application for aid, you will be sent an SAR (Student Aid Report), which will indicate what your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) will be. You’ll need to review the SAR, make corrections and send it back to the processing center. Once they have made the corrections, they will send the SAR/EFC to the schools you have requested.
The EFC indicates how much your parents should be able to contribute to your education. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say your parents have been told they can contribute $10,000. School A’s tuition may be $40,000, and they will award a package of $15,000; School B’s tuition also may be $40,000 and they’re awarding $20,000; lastly, School C’s tuition may be less than both, but their offer may be similar. In this scenario, you really like the first school, but you’re going to have to come up with an extra $15,000 to go there. You’ll need to find an additional $10,000 to attend the second school, and you won’t have to pay anything to attend School C. Where you’ll go will be a personal decision made between you and your parent(s), of course.
|School A||School B||School C|
In the first and second cases, the difference between the tuition, the parental contribution and the aid award is called the gap, and it’s very common. You may have to call your grandparents to come up with some fast cash to make your dream a reality, but with some creativity and initiative, you can usually manage it.
You may feel overwhelmed by these forms, but they do guide you - i.e. to fill in this form, go to line 42 on your 1040E, whatever the case may be. Be patient while filling them out (even better let your accountant do it!), and make sure you make a copy of it when it is completed! The following year, it will not be so difficult.