NEWSFLASH! Not long ago, I wrote a Huffington Post piece on "What High School Students (And Their Parents) Can Do to Get the Most Financial/Merit Aid for College." It covers these topics:
• Pointless Ignorance About the Topic of Financial Aid
• Everything Counts
I. Getting good grades and test scores
II. Identifying colleges that are good fits
III. Determining what your potential college costs and financial/ merit aid resources will be
IV. Other considerations, including colleges that are known for offering the most merit aid
DEFINITION OF FINANCIAL AID: According to Kantrowitz and Levy's Filing the FAFSA, "Financial Aid is money given, earned or loaned to help pay for college. [It] can come from federal and state governments, colleges, businesses, and private and social organizations." Just so you know, Filing the FAFSA is by far the best FAFSA resource available. You can purchase the book, but it is also available as a free download here.
DEFINITION OF MERIT AID: MeritAid.com defines Merit Aid as "...the general term for grants, scholarships and discounts that a college awards to an admitted student without regard to financial need. Merit aid may be based on academic or athletic achievements, special talents such as music, where the student lives or other demographic characteristics." These grants are usually offered to students who show academic promise AND they do not have to be paid back!
There are two major channels that colleges use to determine how much financial aid they give to students. One channel is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a financial aid form provided by the federal government that is required by most public colleges and universities from students seeking scholarships, grants, loans or work-study jobs.
3 Easy Steps to filing the FAFSA
On YouTube, St. Edwards University tells you exactly what to do to fill out the FAFSA:
The other channel is the CSS PROFILE, a financial aid form provided by the College Board and required by many private colleges for students seeking financial aid.
Many parents want to know how to plan for the financial aspect of college admissions. To this end, the U.S. Department of Education has a new, simplified version of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) that helps families get a preview of the financial aid for which they might be eligible. Their site also offers advice on how to pay for college.By the way, it is offered both in English and Spanish. Go to: www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov
Offers different financial calculators to help you figure out:
• College costs
• Savings plans
• Expected family contributions to financial aid
• Possible loan needs
To access this estimated college financial information, use the Financial Aid Calculator found here: www.finaid.org/calculators
Other financial aid calculators include:
The College Board Financial Aid Calculator
Also be sure to check out these other Helpful Resources:
College Board's Pay for College
Information about what it costs to go to college, a net price calculator, information about scholarships and aid, ways to pay for college and loan information.
Federal Student Aid
A Department of Education site that helps students prepare financially for college, get money for college and also repay student loans.
Although most student aid comes in the form of federal education loans and grants, there are other ways of financing your college education, including:
• Other than federal loans
• Prepaid tuition plans
• ROTC scholarships
• Other sources ranging from work study, education tax benefits and college tuition payment plans
Two websites that get rave review for providing financial aid information are www.finaid.org and
WARNING: There are many financial aid and scholarship websites available these days, but one has to be very cautious about using them. There are many scams. One way of sorting out who is legitimate and who is not is whether they charge a fee for their services. Watch out if they do.
Here are some links to find out more about scholarships:
College Board's Scholarship Search
The official website.
A comprehensive directory of merit and academic scholarships from colleges around the country.
A free scholarship search website, organized by descriptive subject areas such as, major, university, community college, minority, military, state, academic honors, employer, occupation, disabilities, etc.
Here are some links to find out more about loans:
Student Loans: Avoiding Deceptive Offers
A Federal Trade Commission/Department of Education guide for avoiding deceptive loan practices.
Part of the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan, U.S. Department of Education, information about how to apply for subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
College Financial Aid Forms
Most colleges have their own financial aid forms that students must complete. These forms are often due before actual application deadlines, many in December. You can find out what these deadlines are on each admissions website of the colleges to which you are applying.
You and your parents can complete the FAFSA form after January 1 of your senior year.
You and your parents can complete the PROFILE form anytime during the fall of your senior year.
The SallieMae College Answer website offers unusually sage advice about student financial aid, including debunking the major myths. Go here to find why the following statements are simply wrong:
Myth #1: My family's income is too high to qualify for financial aid
Myth #2: My parents saved for my college education, so we won't get any aid.
Myth #3: My sister wasn't eligible last year, so this year I won't be eligible either.
Myth #4: I plan to attend college part time, so I won't be eligible for financial aid.
Myth #5: There isn't enough aid for everyone.
Myth #6: Millions of scholarship dollars go unclaimed every year.
Myth #7: Don't consider your first-choice school if it costs too much.
Another useful resource is College Board's Financial Aid FAQ site.
Many parents ask for good books about financial aid. Here is a list of books that National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) professionals recommend on their listserv. They are also all five star recommended books on amazon.com:
Higgins, Tim, Pay for College Without Sacrificing Your Retirement. Pt. Richmond, CA, Bay Tree Publishing, 2008.
Hurley, Joseph F., The Best Way to Save for College: A Complete Guide to 529 Plans. 2011-2012 Savingforcollege.com Publications, 2011
The College Board, Getting Financial Aid 2014 All-New Eight Edition (College Board Guide to Getting Financial Aid). New York, The College Board, 8th edition, July 2013.
O'Shaughnessy, Lynn, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price. Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2nd edition, May 3, 2012.
Palmasani, Frank, Right College, Right Price: The New System for Discovering the Best College Fit at the Best Price. Naperville, IL: January, 2013.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling has also put together a very useful website, chock full of financial aid information, including:
• A Parent's Guide to Financial Aid
• How to Apply
• Understanding Award Letters and Communicating with Colleges
• The Government Formula for Distributing Aid
• The Difference between a Stafford Loan and a Pell Grant
Access all this information here.
Just in case you want to know, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) is a professional association made up of 11,000 college admissions professionals around the world who are in college admissions offices, serve as high school counselors in private and public high schools and are independent admissions counselors offering private admissions consultation.