Paying for College Part I: 5 Financial Aid Tips

Paying for College Part I: 5 Financial Aid Tips

Note: Last January, I posted the following comments. I thought it was important to share this information once more for this year’s high school seniors and their parents.

It is that time of year when newly admitted students search for more information about scholarships and other available funding 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 key 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 you qualify 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 by simply 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 Financial Aid Office 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. This year, Loyola welcomed 1,981 freshman students, with 95% of them receiving some form of financial aid. We also award more than $85 million in scholarships and grants each year.

A few things to remember: first, at Loyola we award merit scholarships to eligible admitted students, but we also have additional scholarships. Second, many students filing the FAFSA demonstrate need, which may 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 you 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. Keep in mind that 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. Accordingly, we started the Loyola Guarantee in fall 2009 to assist students in the most difficult position due to the economy, but the Guarantee also helps students whose needs are less drastic. Through 2011, Loyola has committed more than $1 million to this fund and has helped more than 600 Loyola students continue their education.

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