Students and families commonly pursue financial aid to help offset the increasingly rising costs of higher education. The U.S. Department of Education reports that each year they provide more than $80 billion in new aid to nearly 10 million postsecondary students and their families.
Students and families should apply for financial aid even if they consider their need for it questionable. The only way to access some of the lowest interest rates (lower than credit union offerings) is to apply through the federal financial aid program. In most cases, costs should not prevent application for financial aid because application fees are usually negligible or free. Students and families should note that financial aid requires an annual renewal process subsequent to the first year of a student's award.
The Three A's model (approach, apply, and accept/advise) may guide the pursuit of financial aid.
A variety of public and private organizations act as higher education funding sources - each with specific requirements and application processes. Typical sources of financial aid are broadly categorized into Federal/State, Institutional, and Private aid. Students and families are advised to thoroughly investigate all student aid opportunities during the junior year, prior to initiating the college application process.
Federal/State Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible for federal and state funding.
Many colleges and universities also require additional forms that give a comprehensive assessment of students' and families' financial portfolios, such as the CSS PROFILE (College Scholarship Service Profile). Federal financial aid programs include Federal Work Study, Stafford Loan Programs, Perkins Loan Programs, and Pell Grants.
Students who qualify and wish to receive the Georgia HOPE Scholarship must apply at www.GAcollege411.org.
Students and families are advised to submit materials electronically whenever possible. Please note that oftentimes these processes require preregistration and Personal Identification Number (PIN) information prior to completing the necessary forms.
Institutional Aid Institutional financial aid is directly awarded from a college or university to close the gap between a family's estimated family contribution and institutional cost of attendance.
Institutional aid may take the forms of school grants, merit-based scholarships, institutional work-study or talent awards.
Application procedures and eligibility requirements vary widely and most institutions require students to complete either the FAFSA or CSS PROFILE.
Private Family employers, labor and corporate organizations, and religious and civic groups often provide scholarships and financial aid to college students.
The application process for private funding varies widely and often involves very specific eligibility requirements. Holy Innocents’ shares information regarding private scholarships available for students via Family Connection.
In all cases, research and procurement of private scholarship application materials is the student's responsibility.
Infrequently, private funding opportunities require a school nomination; in this event, the Holy Innocents’ college counseling office will notify students of the nomination procedure and provide appropriate application materials.
Become Familiar with Application Forms Financial aid applications, especially the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE, are lengthy and detailed. Practice with synthesis of student and family financial information for accurate completion of forms is highly recommended.
Gather Financial Information Students and families must gather documents that provide income and asset information to complete financial aid applications. Often, W-2 forms and other income tax materials are required. Refer to individual application instructions for specific lists of necessary documents and information.
Complete the Applications Read all instructions carefully. Most mistakes are made by misreading or misinterpreting directions. If questions arise about how to complete certain sections of varied financial aid forms, students and families should contact the financial aid administrators listed on the forms. Additional information may frequently be obtained by calling the financial aid offices at the colleges and universities to which students are applying.
Photocopy and Mail Save a copy of all financial aid applications and accompanying documents for personal records. Complete the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE electronically via the websites listed above. Applications should be submitted at least 10 business days before stated deadlines because of lengthy processing times. Students who do not meet stated deadlines are often disadvantaged in the financial aid awarding process. Delivery confirmation is recommended for financial aid applications mailed by the U.S. Postal Service. Online application pages or receipts should be printed for personal records.
Review Requests for Additional Information Administrators of financial aid programs regularly request additional financial information from students and families. For example, students receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) four to six weeks after completing the FAFSA that summarizes FAFSA data and indicates the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Students and families should ensure the SAR is correct, make changes where appropriate, and return the revised form. Colleges receive changes electronically. Students and families must submit federal tax returns and other requested information to confirm data provided on the FAFSA when requested by financial aid offices at colleges and universities. Prompt submission of verification materials prevents delays in processing financial aid applications.
Notify Financial Aid Administrators of Special Circumstances Financial aid application forms may inadequately capture students' and families' financial situations. Students and families should notify financial aid offices at colleges and universities via letter or email of unusual circumstances such as medical expenses, unemployment, and significant fluctuations in annual income that may affect their ability to contribute to the costs of college.
Review Award Letters Different colleges and universities may submit similar financial aid packages. Students who receive awards from multiple institutions and organizations should review amounts, terms, and conditions to determine the optimal funding package for their financial circumstances. Questions may be directed to the financial aid officers at the individual institutions.
Discuss Payment Options Determine the amount of any gap between the cost of attendance and the financial aid offered by the college or university of choice. If a gap exists, students and families should research additional payment options including institutional payment plans, Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students (PLUS), or private educational loans.
Accept or Decline Aid Students should promptly return a signed copy of the award letter to the institution at which they will matriculate, as well as inform all other institutions of their decision not to enroll. Colleges and universities may also require notification regarding any financial aid or scholarship from external sources.
Financial Aid Resources
FAFSA The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used to apply for all government financial aid programs. The United States Department of Education analyzes financial data provided by students and families on the FAFSA through a process known as the Federal Methodology to determine an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount of money that the government believes a student and/or family can contribute toward higher education expenses. Once calculated, the EFC and accompanying data is forwarded to institutions that students list on their FAFSA. Colleges and universities rely on the FAFSA to award institutional financial aid.
The FAFSA allows students and families to submit financial information to a maximum of six colleges at a time. Students and families wishing to submit FAFSA information to more than six institutions will have the opportunity to add additional institutions after receipt of the Student Aid Report (SAR). Once the SAR is received and reviewed to be correct, students and families can substitute the original six institutions with additional institutions, as the first six will have received electronic copies of FAFSA data. Students and families are strongly advised to submit their FAFSA after January 1 and no later than February 1 even if estimated tax figures are used. Detailed, step-by-step instructions and advice regarding how to best complete the FAFSA are available at the Department of Education Web site.
CSS PROFILE The College Scholarship Service (CSS) is a member of the financial aid division of the College Board. Colleges, universities, and scholarship programs use the CSS PROFILE to award nonfederal student aid funds. The PROFILE application consists of three parts: (1) registration for a customized PROFILE application; (2) completion of the PROFILE application; and (3) submission of the PROFILE application. Unlike the FAFSA, the PROFILE is a fee-for-service application. Currently, students are charged a $5 application fee and $18 for each school that is issued a report. Both fees cover the cost of processing and reporting student and family financial information. A limited number of fee waivers are available for students or families that qualify. The PROFILE may be completed online as an alternative to the paper version. However, the online PROFILE requires a secure browser and valid credit card.
Scholarships and the Internet The volume and immediacy of information available on the Internet can make it a powerful tool in the scholarship search process. For-profit Web pages advertising scholarship opportunities are becoming more common. Many Internet scholarship search companies are run by people with limited knowledge about financial aid and scholarships. Although some Web sites may prove useful, use caution when utilizing them.
Students and families should consider the following:
Beware of Web sites that claim or resemble ties to the state or federal government.
Does the search service provide a list of previous customers I can contact for verification?
Is the search service asking for money? If so, it is likely a scam. Do not continue to use it! Information regarding reliable and verified scholarships is always free and accessible in libraries, college counseling offices, bookstores, colleges, and elsewhere on the Internet.
Is there a believable guarantee? Read the fine print. Often search engines locate scholarships you may be eligible for, but for which you must still initiate the application process.
The U.S. Department of Education reminds families that information and advice on federal student aid is free. It is not necessary to pay for services. Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-4-FED-AID for further information and advice.
Financial Aid has a unique vocabulary composed of various acronyms and abbreviations. TheFinAid website, www.finaid.org, lists some of the most commonly used terms in the glossary.