“I don’t think I’ll get anything, is it even worth it?” I receive that question often this time of year. Financial aid applications have been compared to a root canal so it’s not exactly something one would choose to do unless it was going to have some benefit.
On October 1st, the main financial aid forms will become available. In order to apply for aid, all colleges require a form called the FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Many of the more selective private colleges also require a form called the CSS Profile to guide them on distributing their institutional grant money.
It is not something that you HAVE to do, although often times it makes sense to go through the process. Here are some recommendations and considerations as you decide if it is worth you time:
1) Confirm you aren’t going to qualify. Your chances for aid are greater at the more expensive private colleges or if you have multiples in college. I would recommend checking out the Net Price Calculator on one of the colleges’ websites that your student is considering (start with the more expensive places). Just search for it on the website. You put in the numbers and it will give you an estimated package.
2) Confirm that none of the target colleges that he or she is applying to require the FAFSA or other forms for merit scholarships. It’s rare that they do but you want to be sure. Mostly they just require the admissions application for merit but it’s smart to verify there is nothing else required like an interview or extra essay. The easiest way to find out is to go to the respective college websites and search for merit scholarships and see what is available.
3) A big reason why people choose to fill out the FAFSA even if they don’t think they will qualify, or even have the funds to pay the entire bill, is that they want the student to have “skin in the game”. Sometimes we see parents offer to pay the loans for their child as an incentive if they complete their degree on time or achieve a certain GPA.
4) If you think you are going to want to finance any portion of the tuition, you should fill it out. Regardless of your eligibility, your child can receive an “Unsubsidized Stafford Loan” for $5500 if you fill out the FAFSA. It’s going to have better terms than other student loans and probably most other options.
5) The FAFSA is free and not terribly painful so there is a little risk/no cost and “you never know’. The other form previously mentioned, the CSS Profile, is more involved and costs $16/school. That’s what those schools use to give out their own institutional money. So it’s still not a big investment but it will take you a couple of hours to get through it for a shot. As Wayne Gretzy said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
5) If you end up wanting to appeal or negotiate any financial aid package, the school will probably want to have it. Let’s say you lose your job at some point during the year or something else unexpected occurs, you’ll be in the system.
Please give us a call if you want to discuss your potential for eligibility or any aspects about your situation. We are here to help with this daunting part of going to college.
Written by Gregg Cohen, Campus Bound President and Founder