Financial aid is one of the more complex facets of college admissions. Applying for financial aid was once a relatively straightforward and standardized process, but is now more complex: financial aid comes in many varieties and through numerous programs. Although applying for aid can be a complicated procedure, it is well worth exploring for many Eastside Prep families.
Our strong recommendation in reviewing cost at each institution is not to be immediately frightened or overly enthused by initial “sticker prices” of institutions. After financial aid packages are determined, total cost of attendance ends up being comparable at institutions with widely differing tuition costs, and sometimes the final cost is even lowest at the most expensive college.
Types of financial aid offered generally fall into these three broad categories:
- Need-based aid (offered by the college)
- Merit aid (offered by the college)
- Community-based scholarships (offered by businesses, community groups, and other organizations)
A website we recommend for general financial aid information is www.finaid.org.
In total dollars, most financial aid is awarded by colleges on the basis of need. The Expected Family Contribution (also known as the EFC, or the amount the family is estimated to be able to pay towards the student’s educational costs in the upcoming year) is determined by formula, based on information submitted by the parent(s) of the applicant. Need is then determined by subtracting that figure from the total cost of attending each institution. Consequently, need fluctuates at each institution. A family with an EFC of $20,000 will be judged without need at a state college with costs less than $20,000, while they may qualify for $20-50,000 of aid at the most expensive schools in the country.
EFC can be estimated on the Internet. The College Board (www.collegeboard.com) offers a financial aid calculator into which families can input personal data and figure a rough estimate. There are also similar calculators on every college’s website (required by law). Please note the EFC can be figured using two different methodologies, one more commonly used at public institutions and one more commonly used at private colleges. The online estimators are a great place to start, but remember that they are estimators only, and your official EFC may differ significantly from what the online financial aid calculator tells you.
A need-based aid package will generally consist of three parts: grants, loans, and work-study (often campus-based employment). Loans and work-study are sometimes referred to as the self-help portion of the package.
- Grants are monies given as outright gifts that do not have to be repaid. Grants can come from various sources: federal aid, state grants, and money awarded directly by individual colleges.
- Loans require repayment to the source of funding. Loans, like grants, can come from federal, state, and institutional sources. Some also are available through private lenders. Many banks and lending institutions now make special loan programs available to parents to help finance their student’s education. These latter loans are not based on need, but can help aid the family’s budget over the years of schooling.
- Work-study consists of on-campus employment for hourly wages during the academic year. There is a weekly limit on hours and a yearly limit on total wages. Of course, students can seek other employment to supplement their income.
In addition to the financial aid package, there are a variety of payment programs offered by many colleges and universities. These programs are designed to allow families flexibility in their payment of college costs.
There is a growing pool of schools offering some form of merit scholarship. “Merit” most often signifies academic achievement in the form of grades and test scores, but it can also include achievement in music, art, community service, citizenship, etc. These scholarships can vary immensely in amount but can in some cases make private-college tuition competitive with public college alternatives.
Merit aid is not available at hyper-selective institutions. Rather, it is a way for colleges without that same level of selectivity to entice to their campuses high-achieving students who might otherwise go elsewhere.
In most cases, you will be automatically considered for merit aid when you apply to a college that offers it. In some cases, you must apply specifically for a particular merit scholarship – these are often more competitive, and are larger monetary awards. Most colleges will publish the scholarships that they offer in their literature; you can also inquire at the admissions office.
A broad range of community-based scholarships exist for the intrepid applicant who is willing to put in the time and energy to seek them out and apply. Some are subject-specific, while others are sponsored by civic or business groups. Some require a simple application, some are granted with no application, and some are essay contests or require other submissions or interviews. While some of these scholarships are based locally, there are many at the national level as well, from corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola and Wendy’s to the military’s Reserve Officer’s Training Core (ROTC). Please note that some of these scholarships, particularly ones sponsored by national corporations, are extremely selective, while sometimes the smaller, locally-based scholarships have very little (or no!) competition. We recommend that you consult with your Process Coach before beginning work on applications.
Applying for College Aid
The first step in applying for aid is to contact the financial aid office of each college. While there are many commonalities in the process, each school will have their own specific processes and deadlines. Most typically, you can expect to fill out:
- FAFSA: A federal form required to apply for need-based aid at ALL colleges. You can submit as early as October 1 of your senior year.
- CSS Profile: An additional form used by many colleges as a supplement to the FAFSA. You can submit as early as October 1 of your senior year.
- College-Specific Application for Aid.
All financial aid is in a continual process of change due to government budget cuts and institutional revision. Please work closely with the financial aid officers at your prospective colleges.
Glossary of Financial Aid Terminology
Admit/Deny: The admission strategy in which students are admitted need-blind but can be denied financial aid.
Demonstrated Need: The total cost of attendance minus your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is your demonstrated need.
EFC/Expected Family Contribution: The EFC is the amount of family income and assets that are deemed available to pay towards the costs of your education in a given year.
Gapping: What we call it when a school offers you aid, but not enough to cover your demonstrated need. The amount of unmet need is the amount they have “gapped” you in your financial aid package.
Need Analysis: The process used to evaluate an applicant family’s financial situation and determine their Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and sometimes the CSS Profile are used to collect the information needed for this analysis.
Need-aware admission: An admission practice by which schools reserve the option to consider financial need in admissions decisions.
Need-blind admission: An admission practice by which schools agree not to use financial need as a consideration in admission. Typically schools that practice need-blind admission have very large endowments and are able to guarantee that they will be able to meet your demonstrated need if you are admitted.
Preferential Packaging: A financial aid practice by which admitted students are awarded aid packages of differing attractiveness based on the assessed desirability of the candidates by the college.