For many families, the stress of paying for college has increased the anxiety level for the entire, already-stressful process. Helping parents navigate this part of the maze has become an ever-more important role for those of us who guide families through the college search and application experience.
There’s a flood of information about there about paying for college – sometimes offering advice on how to maximize your eligibility for need-based aid, even if they don’t know your individual financial situation. There’s so much information that you’ll begin to wonder what’s true and what’s not, and what really applies to you. So we’ve curated some information for you here that we think is useful to everyone. You are not alone in your concern about paying for college!
How can you educate yourself about HOW the college financial aid process works? Here’s a good starting point – spend 30-ish minutes watching our Financial Aid webinar. This will give you some basic information about the different pieces of financial aid, and how they work.
There are lots of rumors, myths and half-truths floating around out there. For example, most people believe that only top students – those with straight As and stratospheric test scores – get merit-based aid. Nothing could be further from the truth! Unfortunately, most people also believe that ALL colleges award merit aid. And they don’t. Here are a few articles about financial aid myths and realities:
- This piece was written by Mark Kantrowitz from FastWeb, who is considered one of the foremost experts in college financial aid. You can download the presentation and handouts in this article.
- This piece on financial aid myths is from Cappex, a trusted source.
This recent article on how student debt and paying for college is adding even more stress to the college admission process features an interview with the author of a new book on this topic. Parents can reduce this stress by thinking about the financial side much earlier in the process; our counselors now incorporate the financial aspect into the college search much earlier, so that everyone is on the same page. As I mention in the video above, as well as in the financial aid webinar video, you may want to consider having your child remove some more expensive colleges from their list, if you aren’t likely to qualify for need-based aid, they don’t give merit aid and you don’t want to pay the full “sticker price.”
How Colleges Communicate About Financial Aid
As students begin building their college list, parents should check out the Net Price Calculator (NPC) on each college’s website. Most of the time, these tools can give you some understanding of how much you’ll actually be expected to pay for each college. The NPC will ask some questions – sometimes a little bit nosy – as it tries to determine if you’ll be eligible for need-based aid. Some colleges that give merit based aid will also ask for GPA and/or test scores, to show you what scholarship funding your child might receive. Keep in mind that all colleges do not give merit aid, but also keep in mind that at most colleges, the “sticker price” is not what most people pay.
As of fall, 2019, the federal Department of Education has updated the format of how colleges communicate their financial aid offers to students and families so that it’s easy to understand as you make your final college decision. The new template looks like this (click here); more information about the new guidelines that colleges must follow is here. The bottom line is that colleges must give clear information about how much of their financial aid “packages” are loans that must be repaid (and the interest rates); how much are grants and/or scholarships (grants are usually need-based; scholarships are usually merit or score based); and what the family’s EFC is (and which methodology was used). If all of that gobbledygook didn’t make any sense to you, refer back to our Financial Aid webinar here!
The fast-moving and rapidly changing world of college admission, and the rise in the importance of having the conversation about paying for college are why our counselors spend so much time on the road, visiting colleges, attending conferences, meeting with college admission officers, and keeping ourselves informed about what the decision-makers are thinking. If you have questions about this stuff, we’re happy to chat with you.