College Financial Aid
Clearly stated - a college education is expensive. As college costs continue to escalate, families understandably are growing more and more concerned about just how they will pay for it all. A $60,000 + price tag is not uncommon these days for the total cost of one year of college at a private school. While costs at state schools are indeed lower, they too are on the rise. While we urge you not to go through the college search process with cost as the primary factor, we do recognize the importance of the price tag in the final decision.
Rather than attempting to explain the entire process in this forum, we will offer some general guidelines, address the questions we receive most often, define some key terms, and provide some helpful worksheets for comparing aid awards.
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is required for anyone applying for financial aid. It is due as soon after January 1st of your senior year as possible. You can indicate the schools you want to receive this report when filing or make these additions later.
- Many private institutions and agencies also require the CSS Profile form. Filing with this form is a two-step process that can begin early in the fall of the senior year. When you submit the form, you should indicate which schools you want a report sent.
- Some schools also require their own institutional form often found in their application packets. You must fill these out in addition to the FAFSA and CSS Profile.
- All colleges and universities (in the U.S.) are now required by law to have a Net Price Calculator available on their website. While these programs do vary, they do provide as accurate a picture as possible of what you can expect in terms of out of pocket expense.
- There are some scholarships and aid awarded on the basis of need and others awarded based on merit. Make sure you are aware of what the specifics of all scholarships you may apply for.
- Financial Aid awards are given for one school year. You must re-apply each subsequent year; it is therefore a good idea to get to know the financial aid officers at your school.
- Need-based aid is awarded in packages consisting of grants, loans and work-study. Individual schools can “play” with the relative levels of the components, but the total award should be roughly the same at every school. You can chose not to take the loan or work study components of a package, but you will have to come up with an alternate source for these funds.
- Receiving aid from St. Mark’s does not guarantee that you will be eligible for need-based aid in college. It also does not guarantee that you will be awarded aid in a similar proportion to the cost of the school.
- Schools in regions beyond New England more frequently offer more extensive Merit Aid programs. Some of these programs require special applications while others are awarded automatically upon receipt of your application.
- There are a relatively small number of truly “need-blind” colleges and as such admission officers do sometimes consider how much a student will “cost” them if admitted. Such decisions usually occur in the absolute final stages of shaping the class and will not include students who are clearly admissible based on academic qualifications. Because of this situation, students should apply to several colleges where their credentials will place them among the strongest in the applicant pool.
- It is possible for a school to admit you but not award you any aid, or to provide you with an aid package that meets only a portion of your overall need. This process known as “gapping” is unfortunately becoming more prevalent.
- If you know financial aid will be important in your ultimate decision about where to go, you must include a financial aid “safety” on your list of schools. This “safety” must be a sure thing or foundation school for you in terms of admission as well. A state school often fits this bill.
- Always, always, always make and keep copies of all financial forms you submit.
- You should ask admission officers how their financial aid packages will change during your tenure at their school. Do they “front load” their packages, making them more attractive at the start as a recruiting tool and then not give as much in subsequent years? Or, do they adjust financial aid packages along with rises in overall costs? Do they change your package based on your academic performance?
- If there arespecial circumstances, delineate them carefully on a separate sheet andsend to each admission office, NOT to FAFSA or PROFILE. Supplyas much documentation as possible.
- It is perfectly acceptable to call the financial aid office after receiving your award letter to seek clarification or in the case of new or changed information, appeal an award.
- Beware of solicitations promising to find either more aid or scholarship money; unfortunately, there are people out who are ready to capitalize you’re your fear about how to afford college.