Paying for College
A Guide from Our Los Angeles Top College Admissions Professionals
Are you concerned about paying for the continuously rising cost of college? Many families simply do not have the economic means to pay for a four year college education without receiving financial aid. The need is even greater in those families sending multiple children to college. Financial aid to help pay the cost of college can come from federal and state funds, institutional scholarships (merit and need based), and private scholarships, using a formula to figure out the Expected Family Contribution.
As college counselors, our goal at Helping Hand College Guidance is to lead you through the financial aid process. We work diligently to educate you on the available options. Some of the other ways that we serve you in this part of the college process are:
- We assist you in filling out all forms meticulously and accurately. (FAFSA , CSS Profile and any institutional forms)
- We work together to choose schools most likely to give financial aid.
- At the end of the process, we evaluate and weigh all financial aid packages offered.
- Then we help you to choose the best package and college based on your individual needs and circumstances.
- We will help you appeal for additional financial aid if appropriate.
Financial aid packages are comprised of gift aid (both need based and merit), loans, and work-study. Every student’s package is determined by a combination of their academic and financial profile.
The FAFSA and the CSS Profile
How are need based awards determined? The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov) is required by all colleges that dispense federal and state student aid as a way to determine if a student qualifies for financial assistance. The FAFSA uses Federal Methodology and its formula is income based. It does not take into consideration many assets. This aid may come in the way of Pell Grants, SEOG Grants, Federal student loans, and College Work/Study. Submission of the FAFSA begins on January 1st. The federal, state, and college deadline is March 2nd for initial California awards as of the 2014-2015 calendar year. The FAFSA4caster (https://fafsa.ed.gov/FAFSA/app/f4cForm?execution=e1s1) can estimate eligibility for federal student financial aid.
Additionally, approximately 300 colleges request the CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile) (http://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile), which is distributed by the College Board, to be completed when applying for financial aid in addition to the FAFSA. This is a far more detailed application than the FAFSA and takes into account home equity, assets, expenses, and income from a non-custodial divorced parent. It is primarily used by private colleges to dispense non-federal financial aid and scholarship funds. Many private universities have endowment funds giving them additional dollars to distribute to students in need. Filing the CSS Profile form costs a fee for each college it is submitted to. Also, the CSS Profile uses Institutional Methodology to decide how institutional aid dollars will be distributed. From these forms, the Expected Family Contribution will be decided. This figure will be subtracted from the COA (Cost of Attendance), revealing the student’s need. Remember, COA is more than just the tuition of a school. Textbooks, housing, food, transportation, student fees, and health insurance are all part of the COA. Therefore, the basic financial aid formula is:
Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Need
The percentage of need that a college meets can vary greatly. Not all colleges meet full financial need. Therefore, the expected family contribution and the financial aid award may not total the COA. Many colleges publish an important annual statistic called the percentage of need met. Percentage of need met includes all forms of aid (federal, state, merit aid, and private scholarships). This statistic is a valuable tool when used in predicting the amount of need-based aid a college will offer based upon a student’s eligibility. The remaining amount of money required to meet the COA is the responsibility of the student to pay.
When filling out the FAFSA and CSS Profile, make sure to have all tax records and financial documents readily available for reference and accuracy in reporting data. Keep track of your username, password, or PIN numbers to reuse again in following years. Some areas on the application will automatically fill in.
As a college admissions counselor, here is some additional advice:
- Check with individual colleges or scholarship programs to determine the deadline.
- Create a College Board online account to file the CSS Profile.
- You may be able to submit the CSS Profile prior to January 2nd.
- Be prepared to submit copies of your tax returns to colleges.
- The FAFSA, CSS Profile, and any institutional financial aid forms should all be consistent in reporting information.
- Incomplete forms or errors can delay an award.
Looking for Scholarship Money?
Students with the time and motivation can pick and choose from among thousands of available scholarships which ones they wish to pursue. The larger national scholarships (with more $$$) will undoubtedly be more competitive, having many more applicants. Various types of scholarships include those that are merit or academically oriented, talent centered, volunteer service oriented, or even a function of religious affiliation, nationality, or parent’s profession. Local scholarships may be smaller in dollar amount, but far less competitive. Some scholarship applications take a considerable amount of time to write college essays and poems or submit videos and creative works. Other applications require nothing more than filling out an application.
Some websites to search for scholarship opportunities are:
Other Factors Influencing Financial Aid
Students that are in the top tier of applicants (generally top 25%) for a school are more likely to receive a preferred financial aid package. When forming a list of target schools, it is best to try to include a handful of those schools where the student is in the top range of its academic profile. The Fiske Guide to Colleges has academic statistics for a large number of colleges. Also, those filing earlier may receive better awards. Some schools are more likely to give gift aid, while others tend to give more dollars in loans and college work/study.
In addition to a student being a strong academic candidate for admission, another reason why a student may receive a favorable amount of need met is if the school wants the student to enroll. The reasons may be many. In that case the student may receive more of their aid in grants and scholarships instead of loans and college work/study. We can assume that a student is more likely to get a desirable aid package from a safety school rather than a reach school. A student may be admitted to a reach school, but their aid package may be far from satisfactory.
A Word on Merit Aid
Merit aid is not based on financial need, but it is still considered financial aid. However, family income and savings have no impact on merit awards. Like its name implies, it is based on the merit of the applicant. Grades, standardized test scores, and sometimes even class rank are primarily considered for academic merit aid. However, other factors taken into account may include athletic, music, and performing arts talent. Not all colleges offer merit aid. Merit aid is a gift and does not require repayment, generally offered in the form of grants and scholarships. Merit aid will first be used to meet need, rather than reduce the EFC. The same can be said about private scholarships and grants.
As a private college counselor, Pam Ohriner is here to guide you every step of the way through the stressful and at times perplexing college financial aid process. Helping Hand College Guidance provides the knowledge and college application assistance a student and their family needs to give them their best chance at receiving an optimal financial aid package. We work with the student and their family to put together a target college list that includes universities where a student is more likely to have a greater percentage of their need met and more likely to receive merit money. As a college advisor, Pam Ohriner makes sure that students and their family are aware of upcoming deadlines and that forms are filled out correctly with uniformity between the various financial aid applications. We are here to provide answers and ease your worries during this pivotal time in your life, as you embark on your college journey.