Financial aid for postsecondary education comes in many forms: scholarships, grants, student loans and work-study employment. Regardless of your family's financial situation, it is always a good idea to seek financial aid.
All students applying to college should file an appropriate financial aid form. Most colleges will require you to complete a FAFSA form to determine your financial need. Some private colleges will ask for other financial aid forms to be completed, such as the PROFILE form; ask the college financial aid office which forms they require. Federal and state-based aid is determined by the information on these forms. Even if you have learned that you will not qualify for need-based aid, it is still important to file a financial aid form to receive merit or athletic scholarships.
If you are completing a FAFSA, file after January 1. It is a good idea to file it in early January, even if you don't have all of your tax information.
How Financial Need is Determined
Colleges determine financial need by calculating an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), which is based on your income and assets for the prior year. Your EFC is then subtracted from the college's Cost of Attendance (COA). The COA must include tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, personal expenses, computer expenses, and travel; however, not every college is consistent in their formula for COA.
It is a good idea to do a dry run of the financial aid process before your student enters his or her senior year of high school. The College Board has a calculator on their web site to help you determine what your EFC may be a few years down the road. Your financial planner may also be able to help you.
Tips for Financial Aid
Look in your own neighborhood for school, church and community organization scholarships. Even small awards add up if you apply to as many as possible.
Do NOT pay for any college scholarship search service, no matter how great the promises sound.
Don't let the financial aid package be the sole determinant in your student's final college decision. Saving money won't matter if the school isn't a good match for your student.
College costs will continue to rise. Even if you don't qualify for need-based aid this year, you might need financial assistance a few years down the road.
No matter how high you think your income is, you still may be eligible for need-based aid. Make sure you apply!