I’m pleased to welcome back to the blog Admitster’s very own Blaine Blontz, financial aid guru extraordinaire! Today he steps back from the nitty-gritty details of the college financial aid process to, instead, show you the big picture. Behold the Blontz overview of college financial aid! – Katie Z
For most people, the financial aid process begins and ends with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile. Unfortunately, that’s why a majority of families fail to maximize their college financial aid. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case for your family.
When it comes to the financial aid process, there are many opportunities for families to improve their overall standing. These include different approaches to the planning process (which have an impact on the total amount of aid received) and also encompass various methods for financing the remainder of unmet costs.
Below you’ll find my overview of the financial aid process, along with a description of the important milestones that will be encountered along the way.
Understand the expected cost of college specific to your family
No matter how much of a good fit a school is academically, physically, and socially, it should also fit financially. While you won’t know the exact cost of college until you go through the entire financial aid process, you can, using different resources, get an idea of what attendance at specific schools will cost. Admitster recently partnered with one of those resources, College Abacus, which offers a free online tool to help you calculate your estimated net price from schools before you apply. You can expect to read more about Admitster’s partnership with College Abacus very soon!
Prepare financial aid forms and be aware of deadlines
In order to increase your likelihood of receiving the maximum amount of aid, I highly recommend that you complete and submit the required financial aid paperwork prior to the deadlines. Knowing this, do all that you can in advance to ensure that your taxes and other required financial information are ready in time to complete the forms.
Complete your financial aid forms
Once you have an idea of whether you are applying early decision, early action, via rolling admissions, or regular decision, you can then determine when you’ll need to complete the appropriate financial aid forms. The schools you’re applying to will also determine the type of financial aid forms you will need to complete; the majority of schools require the FAFSA and a select number of private schools require the CSS Profile. As was previously mentioned, it’s extremely important to complete these forms prior to the deadlines set by the schools in order to receive maximum financial aid.
Receive and interpret your financial aid award letters
Financial aid award letters can be confusing. They also differ from college to college. You’ll want to have someone in-the-know help you to review and interpret your award letters. In this way you can know exactly what your offer is and how it compares to others. If you’re looking for more information on how to decode your financial aid award letter, we recommend clicking here.
Negotiate additional financial aid
Most people assume that the initial award letter they receive is the final offer from the college. However, this is not always the case. Families can increase the amount of financial aid they receive by simply asking for additional funds. That being said, this is a delicate process, and you should be careful about what you ask for and who you ask. I promise a future post on this very subject!
Understand financing options and payment plans
Once the financial aid award is finalized, many families are left with determining how to pay for the remaining, unmet cost. There are many options for financing the remainder, with education savings plans, loans, and school payment plans being among the most common. Having resources available to help weigh the pros and cons of each will help you to select the best option. As a starting point, be sure to check out this and this!
Complete additional required financial aid forms
Even after the FAFSA and CSS Profile, there will likely be additional school-specific required documents. These include forms and processes used to confirm financial aid forms, and other forms needed to officially accept the aid itself.
This is a lot of information, I know, but we’re here to help you wade through these murky financial waters! If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As ever, more to come…