Now is the time of year when offers of admission will start to arrive for college applicants. It's a very exciting time for Seniors! Very soon after, you'll also start to receive financial aid award letters, detailing exactly how much it will cost you to attend that university, a revelation that can put a damper on your thought process as you contemplate your college options.
On the other hand, if you're a still a Junior, you may be watching your Senior friends go through this process and wondering how you can take control of your college finances and get ahead of the game.
Or, maybe you're a parent wondering where to start and how to help your student put their best foot forward in finding a college that is the right fit, without "breaking the bank."
No matter what stage you're in or what part you play, now is a good time to have your questions about financial aid answered. In the video below, Ashley Smith of Scoir, and I will help break down the financial aid process and answer some of the most pressing questions families have.
Below, you'll find a high-level overview of the keys topics discussed, along with the times that those topics are discussed within the video. We hope this helps you jump to the specific parts of the video that are of interest to you.
If you find yourself with additional questions, we encourage you to reach out via our contact form!
Why Does College Cost so Much?
- The price tag you see is often reflective of the hard cost of educating a student on that campus, including compensation for faculty and staff, research facilities, academic programs, and more.
- When the institution is state-supported, that cost per student is subsidized by the state.
- Without a state subsidy, private institutions must bear that cost per student themselves.
To hear the full explanation about why college costs so much, jump to 1:58
How Can Families Find Affordable Colleges?
- It’s best for parents to see this as a partnership with their young adult, and in doing so having a frank conversation about what the family is able and/or willing to spend on education can help.
- Research the “sticker prices” online, keeping in mind that total cost of attendance can be 15-20% higher than the published tuition, room and board.
- It’s important to find colleges where your student will be valued. You can get a sense of this by looking at the profile of admitted students on admission pages online, visiting campuses, and subscribing to student newspapers on those campuses.
To hear more about finding an affordable college, jump to 6:06.
The Five Sources of Funding for College
- It’s important to remember that, in our country, the first responsibility for the college expense rests with the family. So, if your family can’t afford 100% of a college's cost, then what are the other sources of funding?
- After the family, the next sources of funding would be the federal government, the state government, the institution, and finally scholarships.
- It’s important to note that a “scholarship” from an institution should be thought of as “forgiveness of payment” not necessarily cash that you will receive.
To hear more about the five sources of funding for college, jump to 13:11.
How to Determine the Actual Cost of College
Understanding EFC and Differential Need Analysis
- Colleges attempt to determine your expected family contribution through one of two methodologies - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile.
- Whereas every institution uses the FAFSA, only about 400 colleges and universities use the CSS Profile, many of which are selective, private institutions.
- The FAFSA uses about 20 data points, attached to your federal tax return, to determine your family’s EFC.
- The CSS Profile uses about 80 data points, which can be customized by each university.
- The result is often that the CSS Profile will return a higher EFC for your family than the FAFSA. The bigger problem is that you do not receive anything back after completing the CSS Profile whereas the FAFSA delivers a Student Aid Report (SAR) to you revealing your EFC. So, many times, you will not know the resulting EFC from the CSS Profile until you actually get accepted to an individual college and receive a financial aid package.
To hear more about EFC methodologies, jump to 18:33.
Financial Aid Matrix and Preferential Packaging
- Once a college determines your family’s EFC, how do they use this information? At many colleges, enrollment managers (AKA admission officers) will use a financial aid matrix to determine whom to admit and support with financial aid.
To hear more about the financial aid matrix, jump to 27:39.
Questions to Ask to Get an Early EFC Estimate
- For families to get an accurate sense of the real cost of attendance, they should plan to visit the university’s financial aid office during the summer before senior year (June-November).
- If you are able to produce your most recent federal tax return, the financial aid officer should be able to do a calculation of your expected family contribution.
For a full list of questions to ask the financial aid officer in securing an early estimate of your EFC, jump to 36:48.
The Biggest Financial Aid Mistakes Families Make
- Families are concerned that the simple act of applying for financial aid will work against them in the admission process.
- Families wait to apply for financial aid until they receive acceptance letters.
- Families hesitate to make appeals to the financial aid office.
For a full explanation of financial aid mistakes, jump to 47:16.