Financial aid Q&A
The total cost for attending college includes tuition, fees, room and board, as well as an allowance for personal expenses, such as travel, laundry and the occasional pizza. Most college catalogs and websites include the “cost of attendance,” but also check out publications specifically from the college’s financial aid office. You can also access a net price calculator on the colleges’ financial aid websites to get a better idea of how much college will cost your family after accounting for financial aid.
Q: What is a net price calculator and how can it help me?
To make it easier for prospective students to figure out how much it will actually cost them to go to college (sticker price versus their actual cost), Congress passed a higher education law that, among other things, requires all colleges to offer a net price calculator on their websites. Essentially, it allows prospective students to get detailed estimates of their out-of-pocket costs as well as their eligibility for financial aid long before they file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Q: Why should I apply for financial aid?
Federal and institutional money can help you and your family meet some of the costs of postsecondary education. Aid can be based on several criteria including family income, student academics or program of study. Even if you think you might not qualify, you should still apply; many students and their families don’t apply and miss their chance at receiving aid. Before filing the FAFSA, many parents want to know how colleges will assess their financial situation.
Go to www.studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/estimate to get an early calculation on your Expected Family Contribution. The EFC is the amount of money the FAFSA determines that the student and his/her family can contribute toward the cost of one year of college. Essentially, the EFC represents the minimum you will have to pay based on your family’s needs.
Q: How do I apply for financial aid?
To be considered eligible for financial aid (including need-based federal aid, grants, loans and work-study) students and their families must fill out the FAFSA.
Colleges and universities use this application to determine how much aid students are eligible to receive. The FAFSA can be completed starting Oct. 1 of the year BEFORE you intend to enroll in school and must include your parents’ federal tax-return information from the previous year. If you have concerns about getting parental support through the process, contact the Center for College Planning. Our college counselors have experience working with unaccompanied youth, foster youth and youth in care.
Contact the counselors from the Center for College Planning at 1-888-]-GRADUATE, ext. 119 for help. Some colleges also require supplemental forms, such as the CSS Profile Form. Check with each school for details. To continue to qualify for aid, you must submit a FAFSA form each year by the schools deadline. The FAFSA can be filled out and submitted electronically at www.fafsa.gov.
Q: When do I apply for financial aid?
Each college may have a different deadline for filing financial aid applications. Most deadlines range from Feb. 1 to March 15. Check with each school to be sure you know the school’s filing dates. At most schools, financial aid is granted on a first-come, first-served basis to need-eligible students. Missing a posted deadline could mean a significant reduction in the amount of aid received.
Q: What types of financial aid are available?
There are two types of financial aid – gift aid and self-help aid. Gift aid is money that does not need to be paid back and is comprised of grants and scholarships. Grants are usually need-based, which means eligibility is based on your family’s ability to pay for college (as determined by the federal government and the college). Scholarships are usually merit-based, which means eligibility is based on your talent (academic, artistic or athletic) or possibly community service. Some scholarships are also offered through your high school guidance office through a local scholarship program.
Self-help aid includes student loans and work study. The federal loan programs – the Perkins and Stafford Loans –are flexible with students and have excellent repayment terms. Most students do not need to pay back their loans until they graduate. Work study is considered a form of financial aid. College students can earn money at an on-campus job. Most jobs average about 10 to 15 hours a week and earnings are most commonly used to cover personal expenses.
Q: What is an award letter?
An award letter is the official notification from a college or university’s financial aid office that outlines the aid awarded to an individual student. An award letter may include federal grants, college grants, scholarships, student loans, student employment/work study and parent loans. It is important to understand the award packages will differ from school to school based on the different resources at each campus and your family’s level of need at each campus. A family’s level of need at a local community college may be different than at a four-year private college. However, don’t assume a higher cost institution is out of reach for you. Often, private institutions have large endowments to support scholarships. In some cases, a private college may actually cost less than a public college.
Q: Where can I turn for outside money to help pay for college?
There are plenty of opportunities for outside scholarships. In fact, students have a greater chance for scholarships offered at the local level. Start at your school counseling office. Browse bulletin boards and scholarship file cabinets in your school counseling office for many of the local opportunities. Perhaps your school posts scholarships online. Utilize scholarship search engines that highlight grants and scholarships for New Hampshire students. Visit www.nhcf.org (NH Charitable Foundation) for New Hampshire-based scholarships. After exhausting all of the local avenues, broaden your search to the national level at www.fastweb.com. Finally, inquire at your parent’s place of employment, local library and your college’s financial aid office for other opportunities.
Q: Where can I go for free help applying for financial aid?
Contact the Center for College Planning at The NHHEAF Network Organizations to schedule an appointment with one of our expert college counselors at 1-888-7-GRADUATE, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Free workshops are offered at high schools around the state. To find a date or time we will be in your community check out NHHEAF’s events calendar at www.nhheaf.org/events.asp.
From the Center for College Planning at The NHHEAF Network Organizations.