It is that time of year when newly admitted students search for more information about scholarships and additional funding that is available to make their college choice a reality for this coming fall. Understandably, families are faced with the difficult discussions about how to finance a son or daughter’s college education, and in many cases, multiple children.
Here are the “Quick Five” tips to consider when you hear the acronym “FAFSA” and reasons to submit it.
Tip #1: For families less familiar with the college admission process, FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the optimum word is FREE. It costs nothing but your time. You should never pay anyone to fill this out for you and certainly Financial Aid Offices at any college or university are happy to provide individual guidance. This is your opportunity to see if a student qualifies for additional scholarships, grants, loans, or a work-study job on campus.
Tip #2: Keep in mind that the results from the FAFSA are linked to a specific student, and much like a Social Security Number, these results follow the student from school to school, whether in-state or out-of-state, and regardless of whether the institutions are public or private. Each institution reviews the results to see what that college or university is able to offer. The results are made available via the Student Aid Report (SAR) and can be sent to any number of institutions a student is considering just by using the school’s code. At Loyola, the code is 001710.
Tip #3: Ensure you do your best to meet the priority deadline for filing. At most institutions like Loyola, you will see that the date is generally around March 1. Filing by March 1 gives our Office of Student Financial Assistance the chance to ensure you have your results (a financial aid package) for review by the May 1 National Candidate’s Reply Date.
Tip #4: Don’t assume you won’t be eligible. Every year I hear from families who assume they won’t qualify or explain that they went through this with an older child and they didn’t qualify before; it is a different year with different circumstances. The real answer is you don’t know what you might be eligible for until you apply. Last year, Loyola welcomed 2,063 freshman students with 96% of them receiving some form of financial aid. We also awarded more than $112 million in scholarships and grants.
A few things to remember: first, at Loyola we do award merit scholarships to eligible admitted students, but we also have additional scholarships. Second, many students filing the FAFSA do demonstrate need and that might also serve as a way for a university to award some additional scholarships or grants that have a need component. Third, if you are reviewing college options and determine that there is still a need for more funding but never filed the FAFSA, this puts you at a disadvantage. Admission and Financial Aid Offices can’t assist with a “want” but are happy to assist families to discuss options, and there are many more options if the college or university actually has a FAFSA on file for that student. Sometimes there are even special circumstances which may be reviewed.
Tip #5: Perhaps the most important reason to file the FAFSA is to trigger a conversation about college financing between parents and the student. I am amazed at the number of students who go through the college admission process and never have the “talk” with their parents about what the family can contribute, what he or she is expected to contribute, and ultimately that college is an investment. College-bound seniors often don’t know the truth about the family circumstances when it comes to money, and at times those discussions happen too late.
The FAFSA provides a mechanism to promote a discussion about finances. Students often wish they knew more, but out of respect for their parents it is unusual that they will ask or start the discussion. After all, a student is much more apt to maintain a high level of commitment to his or her degree program when they know what sacrifices are being made.
In the end, colleges and universities aim to do the best they can as stewards of the limited funding available. Universities feel the impact of the economy as well. Here at Loyola, we also know that it is important to ensure that the students who enroll will graduate, and we don’t want financial hardship to interfere with that goal. Likewise, we have the Loyola Guarantee. Started in Fall 2009 to assist students in the most difficult position due to the economy, the Guarantee also helps students whose needs are less drastic. In all, Loyola committed $1 million dollars to this fund the in the past two years, and we have helped 642 Loyola students.
*Bonus Tip*: You thought there were only 5 Tips? Well, I don’t want to forget to mention that you shouldn’t hesitate to contact the Office of Student Financial Assistance with ANY questions you may have about the financial aid process. They can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 773.508.7704. Even if you haven’t finalized your school choice yet, they can help!