College financial aid is a complicated issue, and it seems like there’s almost too much information out there, making it difficult to figure out what applies to your family’s situation. In this first of a three-part series about paying for college, college 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 webinar to the right, I’ll introduce you to the basic concepts that are most important in how college financial aid works. The pdf of the presentation is here, with all links clickable:
In the ~30-minute webinar, I cover these topics:
- College financial aid terms
- FAFSA – what is it, what does it consider, who submits it
- CSS Profile – what is it, who requires it
- EFC – what is it, how do I get an estimate of what ours will be (do that here, on the College Board’s EFC calculator)
- How is “need” determined?
- How do colleges fill that need?
- Which colleges give non-need-based aid, sometimes referred to as “merit” aid, 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:
- This “Quick Guide to Financial Aid” from FastWeb gives you the terminology, so you understand what is meant by many of the terms we use to describe financial aid issues.
- This post on our blog encourages you to consider colleges that give merit-based aid – because all colleges do not. Students who don’t have top test scores and top grades can still get merit aid! You just have to know where to look.
- Here’s our “quick start” guide for financial aid if your child is a senior and you’re ready to get started!
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 CollegeData.com because we trust its accuracy.
What happens after you submit the FAFSA? What a great question! The Department of Education will send your FAFSA information to each of the colleges on your list. 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 EFC, your ability to pay. As I discuss above in the video, some colleges give merit aid as well, but many do not.
This video from the financial aid office at Bradley University gives you a quick feel for what colleges do with your FAFSA information:
Quick Tip: One of the most frequent questions we are asked about FAFSA is how to submit it to more than 10 colleges, because there’s only room for 10. The answer: enter your first 10 colleges, wait until you receive your SAR, wait an additional 7 days for the colleges to download your info, then go back in, delete the original 10 and add the rest of your list. Most states require you to list one in-state school to be considered for state aid; you can find out if that’s true for your state here.
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.