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Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into the college of your dreams, unfortunately, that acceptance letter didn’t state that you’ll be attending college tuition free. Perhaps your parents saved up for you to attend or maybe you plan on taking on a part-time job. Either way, tuition plus those extra expenses that come along with being a student are a bit too much to bear.
Luckily, you’ve got options. Colleges have financial aid offices, which may feel for some like a magical place you can go to receive free money. If you both qualify and uphold your end of the bargain, you can actually receive money to cover most, if not, all of your educational expenses. But, don’t just walk in there blindly and expect a handout.
To save yourself from an overwhelmingly long wait, schedule a formal interview with your financial aid officer. This way, you have ample time to ask all the necessary questions needed to be sure that your specific needs are met.
According to Patrick Wong, a financial aid representative at Brooklyn College, students should be prepared to ask the financial aid office at their school 10 important questions to maximize the odds of receiving financial aid or obtaining scholarships.
1) What is the total cost of the program including books, fees, tuition and housing?
“Once a student receives a financial aid offer, knowing the true cost can help the student compare the bottom line at any of the schools they’re considering,” Wong explained.
Don’t assume the sticker price on the college’s website is showing you the full picture of what it costs to attend the school. Wong insists that students inquire about student fees, room and board, average book costs per semester, and miscellaneous items that will appear on your student bill.
2) Does your college have a full-need financial aid policy?
The majority of U.S colleges and universities are committed to meeting the full amount of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students. This aid may be met through grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans (federal or institutional). However, if your college doesn’t offer a full-need policy, you may need to find alternate funding sources, such as private student loans to help cover left over expenses.
3) Is there one application for financial aid?
Many schools use one form to determine your eligibility for any and all financial aid available, but according to Wong, not all schools work this way.
“Some colleges require individual applications for separate awards, such as department grants or alumni scholarship programs. Ask the financial aid office to ensure that you aren’t missing any opportunities,” says Wong.
4) Is there a deadline to apply for financial aid?
You definitely don’t want to be the one that misses out on receiving free money for school because you were unaware of the deadline.
“There are many deadlines to meet during the college application process, so it’s easy to get confused or even miss a date if you’re not careful,” explains Wong.
Although the federal deadline for filling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASA) is June 30th of each year, every state and college has its own deadline. Be sure to ask the college’s financial aid office for deadlines concerning the FASA and any scholarship applications you may be submitting. It will be best to set reminders in your phone calendar or write down deadlines on a desk calendar to remind yourself of impending due dates.
5) How do I know if I qualify for financial aid?
There are a number of factors that determine whether or not you qualify for aid like: the number of people in your household, number of students in college, price of the college, parents’ income, income taxes paid and so forth. Wong suggests that students use the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator to determine their eligibility to receive aid.
6) What types of scholarships are available?
Depending on the college, grade point average, and other factors, you may be eligible for need-based, merit-based, or other types of scholarships.
“Some schools will offer generous scholarships based on your academic and athletic abilities, as well as participation in certain clubs, organizations, and societies,” says Wong.
Be sure to ask sure to ask if the awards are competitive or given to any admitted student who meets the criteria.
7) Are scholarships renewable?
If any one of the available scholarships is renewable, it’s important that you inquire about what you must do to keep the awards. Wong insists that students ask about required enrollment (full-time or part time), expected grade point average, and other stipulations that may result in the loss of the award.
8) How will outside scholarships affect my financial aid?
Some colleges offer a very attractive financial aid package the first year, only to reduce the aid offer the following year. Knowing this upfront will help you determine the long term costs of attending the school of your choice.
9) When will my financial aid offer be mailed to me?
“It’s good to know when to expect offer letters so that you can give yourself time to review and consider all possibilities,” says Wong.
All too often, students will accept admission to one college, only to receive a better financial aid offer from another later. Save yourself the regret by waiting for all prospective offers before making a decision. Remember, you can always change your mind after sending in your deposit – and sometimes even after decision deadlines depending on the school. You may have to sacrifice your deposit, but a few hundred dollars is likely worth changing your mind if it saves you thousands in the long run.
10) Will you match another college’s financial aid offer?
Hey, doesn’t hurt to ask right? If you find that you really love one college, but another is offering a better financial aid package, check to see if the financial aid department will match the offer.
“Depending on the type of year, the college may have access to additional funding and may be able to offer you more generous package, so go ahead and ask,” insists Wong.
Knowing how you’re going to finance your education is the most important part of your college career. By visiting the financial aid office and asking the right questions, you can attend the college of your dreams for a lot less than the advertised sticker price.