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College Tips – Part 3
Paying for College
No matter where you enroll, your expenses will include direct educational costs and living expenses. Financial aid assistance is generally determined by your school year budget using five categories:
Tuition And Fees
Room And Board
Books And Supplies
Personal Expenses (Clothing, Laundry, Medical, etc.)
Typically the first category represents fixed costs payable directly to the college.
Room and board will be set by the college in the case of resident (on campus) students, but expenses may vary greatly for students living off campus. If you are utilizing an “athletic scholarship” most all institutions require you the student-athlete to reside on campus in the dorm.
Books, supplies, and personal expenses will vary with the student's academic program and personal spending habits. Learn how to budget your money and above all, don’t make it a habit to “dine out”. Campus cafeterias usually offer food services daily, with a limited menu on the weekends.
Transportation costs for resident students are generally estimated on the basis of two round-trips home during the academic year while commuting students must estimate gasoline, parking and other related costs. Remember if you bring a car, you are responsible for the maintenance and service so budget accordingly and make sure your vehicle has passed all inspections, has current tags, your insurance is in your possession and above all else – DO NOT LET ANYONE DRIVE YOUR VEHICLE.
Once your estimated family contribution has been determined, it should be subtracted from the total costs of the various colleges you are considering (remember, we are talking about need-based aid; "merit" aid is another matter). Because the majority of colleges will base their analysis on the same methodology, the expected family contribution will be about the same at each college.
After your financial aid eligibility is determined, the next task for the financial aid office is to determine which financial aid resources should be combined to form your financial aid "package". Packages may contain grants, scholarships, student loans, and campus employment. Sources of these may include federal and state funds, independent agencies, and college itself. Not all colleges are able to offer you a package that meets all of your financial need, and among those schools that do meet 100% of financial need, aid packages may vary greatly. To illustrate, look at three possible packages that might be offered to meet the $12,813 need of a student attending a College/University.
The "shortfall package" provides $6,000 of financial aid but that amount falls $6,813 short of the calculated need. Most colleges will not offer you a package that falls so far short of your need unless your application materials arrive late or the institution simply has inadequate funds to provide full need for all its students. The "high self-help" package starts with a combination of loan and job (self-help) which totals $4,500 or 35% of the package. The "low self-help" package includes a total of $2,800 in self-help or 22% of the package, a more favorable package because the student's repayment and employment responsibilities are reduced. Both of these $12,813 packages meet 100% of the student's calculated need while holding the family contribution at $7,187 as an example only.
You will be informed about your calculated need and the resulting financial aid package by way of an "award letter." Each college where you have been accepted for admission, applied for aid, and provided on-time financial aid application forms, will send you an "award letter" informing you of the amount and type of aid you will receive. This letter should reach you well before the deadline date for making your admissions deposit so that you will have time to compare packages and ask questions about your package.
NON-NEED BASED ASSISTANCE
In spite of our encouragement and your family's best efforts, the need analysis system may determine that you are not eligible for need-based financial aid, or perhaps your parents feel they cannot come up with all of the family contribution calculated by your top choice colleges. What then? There may still be hope in the form of grants-in-aid, merit scholarships, payment plans, alternative loan programs, and other creative financing options as noted in the “Scholarship” section of this article and above all, consult the financial aid department of each college they are the best resource for a student seeking aid.
As you investigate colleges, check each college's literature for financial aid application requirements, deadlines, and any special programs for which you may be eligible. When planning your college visits, try to set an appointment to see a financial aid officer. Be prepared with specific questions about application requirements, competitive scholarship programs, packaging policies, alternative loan programs, and other questions important to your family.
September - get a copy of "Meeting College Costs," a publication of the College Scholarship Service, available in most guidance offices. Use the charts in this handy guide to estimate your family contribution and financial needs.
December - get the FAFSA (Financial Aid Form), the SAAC (Student Aid Application for California) or the FFS (Family Financial Statement) from the guidance office. The form may not be submitted before January 1, but you should familiarize yourself with requested information and begin to gather the financial records you will need to complete the form.
January / February - complete and submit the FAFSA (or SAAC or FFS). Make a copy for your records before sending them. Complete other financial aid application materials and send them to the colleges to which you are applying. Make one last check for forms you may also need to submit to be considered for private scholarship programs or other outside aid. If you anticipate that you may not be eligible or receive enough need-based aid, you should complete your investigation of alternative loan programs and other sources of non-need based aid. Be sure to include college financial aid officers as you seek advice on these matters.
April/May - carefully compare the bottom line costs to your family from each of the colleges offering you financial aid. As you inform your first choice of colleges of your decision to attend, respond also to school's offer of financial aid. Be sure to let the other colleges know of your decision to attend the first choice college.
May/June - by now your family should have submitted copies of its federal tax returns, promissory notes for student loans and other required documents to the appropriate financial aid office. If suggested by your college, the Stafford loan application should be submitted at that time.
WHOM CAN I TRUST
While your high school coach and the college athletic recruiter may be very helpful and eager to assist you in the college search, it is important that you and your family maintain direct contact with the college financial aid offices. Do not send your financial aid application materials through the coach and do not rely on his or her interpretation of your eligibility for financial aid. Too many lost documents, missed deadlines, and misinterpreted financial aid packages have been attributed to well-meaning but unnecessary intercession by athletic recruiters.
While some high school officers may not have as much time or good information as you would like, they are still the best place to start when seeking financial aid advice. At a minimum, they can put valuable material into your hands and guide you to other people who can help. Financial aid officers at the college you are considering are probably in the best position to analyze your circumstances and lead you to the best sources of need-based and non need-based financial assistance.