College financial aid Q&A

What you should know about student loans, how much college will cost and more

How much will college cost?

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.

Why should I apply for financial aid?

There are federal, state and institutional monies to help you and your family meet some of the costs of postsecondary education. Aid may be based on your program of study. You should still apply for aid even if you think you might not qualify; many students and their families don’t apply and miss their chance at receiving it.

Before filing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), many parents want to know how colleges will assess their financial situation. Go to www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov 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.

How do I apply for financial aid?

To be considered eligible for financial aid (including need-based state and federal aid, grants loans and work-study) students and their families must fill out the FAFSA. College and universities use this application to determine how much aid students are eligible to receive. The FAFSA should be completed soon after Jan. 1 of the year 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. Through CCP’s STAR (Students Transitioning through Achieving Results) program, specialized assistance is available for foster youth and youth in care.

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. The FAFSA can be filled out and submitted electronically at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

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.

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, 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 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.

What is an award letter?

An award letter is the way in which a college or university’s financial aid office assigns a specific fund or group of funds 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 that 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 that 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.

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 guidance office. Browse bulletin boards and scholarship file cabinets in your guidance 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. Go to www.nh93.com (NHHEAF’s Scholarship Superhighway) and www.nhcf.org (NH Charitable Foundation) for NH-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. 

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 1-800-525-2577, ext. 119, or collegeplanning@nhheaf.org. Free workshops are offered year-round. Register at www.nhheaf.org/events.asp.

Scholarship opportunities in your own back yard

Ninety percent of all scholarships come from local community organizations. There are a lot of great resources and websites available to help you find these local opportunities.  Take a look at some of the more popular resources available to help you find free money.

  • NH93 Scholarship Superhighway (NH93.com) allows New Hampshire students to create a personalized profile that can be matched against a database of local opportunities. Students can search for scholarships based on high school, majors or club/activity involvement. There are hundreds of local scholarships available on the website for New Hampshire students.
  • The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation (nhcf.org) annually distributes more than $3 million in grant aid and loans to New Hampshire students. This is the largest source of independent student aid in New Hampshire. There are more than 300 separate funds established by individuals, families, organizations and businesses, all to support higher education.  While most of the scholarships and loans are awarded to students entering college, already in college or pursuing a graduate degree; the Foundation continually looks for new ways to deliver scholarship services to less traditional types of adult students returning to school or exploring training opportunities.
  • Dollars for Scholars (scholarshipamerica.org) is a national network of 1,000 community-based, volunteer-driven scholarship foundations in cities, towns and neighborhoods throughout the United States. Founded in 1958, Dollars for Scholars is the largest-standing Scholarship America Program. Dollars for Scholars Chapters awards millions of dollars in scholarships each year to thousands of students. 
  • Lakes Region Scholarship Foundation (lrscholarship.org) has awarded more than $4.6 million in scholarships to more than 4,300 recipients since 1956.
  • Consider a parent’s (or spouse’s) workplace. Look at local awards from civic organizations.  Search for awards from private trusts. Many local organizations provide scholarships to the local high schools and libraries. Contact the guidance office at your high school for other local opportunities. 
  • Also consider some of the National Search Databases such as fastweb.com and collegeboard.org.

Maximize your search

1. Start looking early!  While searching for additional scholarships takes time and energy, it is well worth it if it helps reduce tuition costs. The more time you dedicate to your scholarship searches, the more options you will have.

2. Organize scholarship materials  Each scholarship may have a separate application deadline and specific criteria. Many scholarships require one or more of the following:

• Parent and student financial information

• Personal statement or essay

• Letters of recommendation

• Proof of eligibility (credentials)

• High school transcript

• Standardized test scores

3. Follow instructions and proofread Complete the application accurately and fully. Include all required materials. Make sure your applications and essays are legible and free of grammatical or spelling errors. Do not forget to sign and date the application.

4. Make copies of everything If your application is lost, this will make it much easier to resend your application.

5. Apply early! Keep a calendar of application deadlines. Consider using certified mail or return receipt. While many deadlines may not be until spring of senior year, others will be earlier.

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