Paying for college is a major concern for most students and their parents. According to CollegeBoard, the cost of college is almost three times what is was in the 1980′s when your parents may have gone. Currently, the cost of attending many private colleges is in the mid-$50,000 price range.
Fortunately, there is a significant amount of financial aid available to help lower families’ out of pocket costs. Schools determine their financial aid packages based on several factors: a family’s financial status, how badly the college wants this student to attend, and the size of the school’s endowment. These factors can sometimes result in a situation where a private school can end up being more affordable to attend than a less costly state university.
Personalize your financial aid applications by including details about your family’s situation that will influence your ability to pay for college. Schools often have resources to help students dealing with difficulties such as illness and medical bills, unemployment, change in parents’ marital status , and business losses. If a proposed financial aid package is not adequate you can reach out to the school’s financial aid office to request additional financial assistance.
When creating your list, it’s a good idea to include schools that are both financial targets as well as reaches. There are many helpful tools available to help you estimate the costs of attending a particular college. For example, the U.S. Department of Education offers a Net Price Calculator, as do many school websites.
Although applying for financial aid is overwhelming, it’s necessary to understand the process in order to receive the maximum aid possible. Research the types of financial aid that are available and know which forms you will need to submit. Individual school websites are a good source of information about available financial aid. Note deadlines so that you don’t miss opportunities to qualify for aid. Talk to your guidance counselor about sources of funds and filing requirements.
To allow for a smooth process, familiarize yourself with what you will need to complete your applications. Now is a good time to start gathering all the information and supporting documentation necessary to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which may be filed on line at www.fafsa.ed.gov starting on January 1st of your senior year. The earlier you apply, the more money there may be available. Collect tax returns, W2′s, pay stubs, bank statements, investment records, mortgage information etc. Doing this now will offer you a head start in January and hopefully, a better chance at maximizing your financial aid package.