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Financing College

Financial Aid Terms & Links

Scholarships

Scholarships are available to all applicants who meet specific criteria; financial need has no bearing on the award of a scholarship. Scholarships come in two basic forms: institutional and independent. A database of scholarships is compiled in Naviance, which students are urged to search early and often.

Institutional Scholarships

Institutional Scholarships consist of funds that belong to colleges and universities and are, therefore, only granted to students matriculated to the college or university. The criteria range from academic accomplishment to identifying yourself as part of a group designated by the institution. Often, your application for admission places you in the running for all institutional scholarships. Sometimes, though, an institution requires an additional essay or establishes a priority deadline (examples are Boston University and the University of Southern California) for considering applicants for scholarships. Information on institutional scholarships is clearly stated under the financial aid link of each college’s Web site, which students are encouraged to explore early (read summer before senior year).

Independent Scholarships

Independent Scholarships come from public organizations or private companies that choose to make money available to college students and advertise through over the Internet or by mail to students and/or the College Counseling Office. Criteria to win a scholarship and the monetary reward are wide-ranging. For example, Coca-Cola and Ford offer scholarships, as do organizations such as the American Legion.  Scholarship information received by the College Office is entered into the ‘Scholarships’ utility in Naviance, a tool introduced in College Seminar.

Need-Based Aid

Need-based aid is available for students and parents who demonstrate financial need and require assistance to pay for college. Public and private institutions have extensive financial aid programs that provide monetary support to eligible families for tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and even social expenses.

Need-based aid is attained by completing 1) the CSS Profile as early as October of your Senior year; and 2) the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in January of your Senior year. Both forms are best completed online at https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/prf/index.jsp and http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ respectively. Keep your pin numbers in a safe place.

Once your FAFSA is processed, and sometimes as early as your CSS Profile is submitted, colleges can create a financial aid package based on the amount they determine a family is capable of paying in an Award Letter that details where the rest of the tuition, room, board and fees will come from. For example, say the college you wish to attend costs $33,600 per year. After assessing your CSS Profile and FAFSA forms, your first-year contribution (referred to as your Estimated Family Contribution or EFC) is determined to be $9,000.

How will the difference be paid? It comes from national loan (money you have to pay back) and grant programs (money you don’t have to pay back), institutional grants, and a part-time job while in school. These components of the financial aid package are listed as loans, grants and work study respectively.

It was mandated in October 2011 that the financial aid sections of all college web sites offer net price calculators. To estimate how much your family should anticipate contributing to your first year of college, another reason is www.collegeboard.com. Click on “Paying for College.” Under “Finding Scholarships,” click on “How much will your family have to pay?” Then click on “calculate my EFC now.”

Financial Safety

The nose dive of financial markets in the fall of 2008 underscored the value of keeping a Financial Safety or two on the college list. This means applying to a school where the applicant is likely to fall in the top 10% of the applicant pool (GPA and scores), making the applicant attractive as a stand-out to be lured by institutional grants in the form of merit money and/or special interest fellowships.  Of course, the more predictive financial safeties, in terms of admission and cost of attendance, are the public universities in your home state, the SUNY and CUNY systems. National financial aid formulas typically consider full-need as household income less than $65,000. Private colleges are known to raise this bar to $100,000, vowing that financial aid packages will be without loans for families demonstrating  full-need.

The FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the official application for financial aid, which is printed and processed by the government. It must be completed as soon as possible after January 1. Families new to the FAFSA can establish their pins (one for the student, another for the parent(s) at: http://www.pin.ed.gov/PINWebApp/appinstr.jsp.  Creating your pin early gives you time before the heat of admission season to familiarize yourselves with the form and financial information required BEFORE you file in January of senior year; investing this time is highly recommended, especially for families who do not see their adjusted gross income changing dramatically from last year’s income tax filing to the current tax year. The FAFSA is online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. Filing the FAFSA is a requirement for any student/family seeking any form of financial aid, whereas the CSS Profile (devised by our friends at the non-profit College Board) is not required by all schools and costs money to file with each school that requires it.

The CSS Profile

Many private colleges and universities require the Profile, which is to be completed by late October or early November (at the latest!). Each institution prints a deadline for the CSS Profile; pay close attention. If you are applying EA or ED, the deadline will be earlier than if you are applying regular decision, as colleges can provide you with an estimate. Never wait for the deadline to file.

Filing the CSS Profile is a two‑step process: 1) Complete the CSS Profile form online at http://www.collegeboard.org/, which consists of roughly 10 questions; 2) Approximately two to three weeks after submitting the initial Profile online, you will receive a long list of questions (roughly 150) about your family’s specific financial situation. Complete and return the form to CSS Profile as soon as possible after receiving it. CSS will then distribute the information to the private colleges to which you are applying.

Net Price Calculator

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) required all colleges and universities to develop and make accessible by October 2011 a net price calculator to help current and prospective students/families estimate their individual net cost of attendance at each college and university.  The institution’s NPC will ask families to provide financial information such as, income, number in family, dependency factors or status, then use Federal or a combination of Federal and Institutional Methodology to approximate the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC),  These calculators may contain input elements such as high school GPA (updated in every student’s Naviance profile) and standardized test scores, depending on what an institution of higher education uses to determine eligibility for non-need-based aid.  The HEOA requires schools to provide, at a minimum, the following elements relative to the cost of attendance:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board (living on campus, off campus, or with parents)
  • Books and supplies
  • Other expenses (including personal expenses and transportation)

This means that both direct, known costs charged by the institution and indirect, estimated costs determined by the individual student must be included in the net price, so that students/ families can make informed decisions.  As you visit these NPCs, located under the financial aid link of individual college and university web sites, you will notice that some schools are better than others at estimating loan vs. grant totals to honestly reflect their affordability against a student/family’s bottom line. Their estimates are only as accurate as the information a family provides.