Financial Aid Q&A

The total cost for attending college, or the “cost of attendance,” includes tuition, fees, room and board, as well as an allowance for personal expenses, such as travel, books, laundry and the occasional pizza. You can find the cost of attendance in college catalogs and on websites.

You can also access a net price calculator on colleges’ financial aid websites to get a better idea of how much college will cost your family after accounting for any financial aid you have been awarded.

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 to go to college (sticker price vs. 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 you to get a detailed estimate of your out-of-pocket costs as well as your eligibility for financial aid long before you file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Q: Why should I apply for financial aid?

There can be both federal and institutional money to 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 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 October 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 NHHEAF Network Organizations’ Center for College Planning (CCP) at 1.888.747.2382, ext. 119. Our college counselors have experience working with  unaccompanied youth, foster youth and youth-in-care.

Some colleges also require supplemental forms, such as the CSS PROFILE® form. Check with each school’s financial aid office for details. To continue to qualify for aid, you must submit a FAFSA form each year by the school’s deadline. The FAFSA can be filled out and submitted electronically at fafsa.gov or on a mobile device via Federal Student Aid’s FAFSA app.

Q: When do I apply for financial aid?

Each college may have a different deadline for filing financial aid applications. Most deadlines for regular admissions candidates range from Feb. 1 to March 15. However, some early admission or early decision deadlines could be as early as Nov. 1. Check with each school to be sure you know the school’s filing dates.

Missing a posted deadline could mean a significant reduction in the amount of aid received.

Q: What types of 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 local scholarship programs and applications can be found in the school counseling office at your high school.

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 also considered a form of financial aid. College students can earn money at an on-campus job, with most jobs averaging about 10 to 15 hours a week. 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 that the award packages will differ from school to school based on the school’s available resources 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 to earn outside scholarships to help you pay for college. In fact, students have a greater chance of being awarded scholarships offered at the local level. Start at your school counseling office and browse the bulletin boards and the scholarship file cabinets for many of the local opportunities. Your school may post scholarships online, so check the website as well.

Utilize scholarship search engines that highlight grants and scholarships for New Hampshire students. Visit nhcf.org (NH Charitable Foundation) for NH-based scholarships. After exhausting all of the local avenues, broaden your search to the national level at websites such as fastweb.com or scholarship.com. And lastly, 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 (CCP) at The NHHEAF Network Organizations to schedule an appointment with one of our expert college counselors at 1-888-747-2382, ext. 119 or collegeplanning@nhheaf.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 our events calendar at nhheaf.org/index.asp#calendar.

Categories: Financial Aid, Money and finance

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