College Cost and Financial Aid

College cost is a complicated issue.  Because cost is directly related to each family’s financial situation, it may be difficult to figure out what you’ll be paying for your child’s college education.  In this first of a three-part series about college cost, financial aid, and merit aid, we’ve curated the most accurate resources to help you understand how the process works, know where to find information, and factor financial aid into your child’s college search at the right time.

In the short webinar to the right, I’ll introduce you to the basic concepts that are most important in how college cost and the financial aid process works.  The pdf of the presentation is here, with all links clickable:

Magellan College Counseling – Financial Aid 2023

In the ~30-minute webinar, I cover these topics:

  • What will college cost?  Averages and some specific examples
  • College financial aid terms
    • FAFSA – what is it, what does it consider, who submits it
    • CSS Profile – what is it, who requires it
    • SAI – what is it, how do I get an estimate of what ours will be
    • First, go through the Federal Student Aid Estimator to get a feel for your eligibility for aid
    • Then, use this SAI estimator to get a more refined feel for what the formula may calculate you can afford
  • How is “need” determined?
  • How do colleges fill that need?
  • Which colleges give “merit” aid (and which do not), and which students receive it?

In the two subsequent posts in this series, you’ll see my interview with Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a highly respected expert on college financial aid, discussing need and merit aid in great detail, and my interview about college ROI with wealth advisor Aaron Kirsch.

Here are some additional resources about financial aid:

Bottom line on financial aid – knowing how the process works is likely to reduce your stress and frustration – colleges tend to behave very similarly from year to year.  The links in the presentation posted below are live, and as you saw in the webinar, we rely heavily on information we obtain from because we trust its accuracy.

What happens after you submit the FAFSA?  What a great question!  A few days after you submit the FAFSA, you’ll receive an e-mail called the FAFSA Summary Statement (FSS).  Check it to make sure everything you reported is accurate.  The Department of Education will send your FAFSA information to each of the colleges on your list (you can list up to 20 colleges as recipients).  Each one will download the information, and when you’re admitted to each college, their financial aid office will begin working on a financial aid offer.  Keep in mind that financial aid offices ONLY work on trying to fill the GAP between their cost and your SAI, the amount they expect you can afford to pay.  As I discuss above in the video, some colleges give merit aid as well, but many do not.

Also keep in mind that financial aid offices ONLY start their work AFTER the admission office decides to admit you – so if you have a particular situation you need to discuss with the financial aid office, it’s probably better to wait until you hear that you are admitted.

This video from the financial aid office at Bradley University gives you a quick feel for what colleges do with your FAFSA information:

We hope that all of these resources help you understand how college financial aid works and how it might apply to your family’s situation.

As always, feel free to get in touch if you’d like a personal consultation.

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