We hope that your students will receive scholarships from a variety of organizations thanks to your assistance. But, we did want to let you know that some students may come back and say that they are getting less aid now because of these scholarships. Why is that? Federal regulations have specific requirements that prohibit “over-awarding” of financial aid. If all sources of a student’s financial aid package exceed the school’s cost of attendance by more than $400, the financial aid office must reduce the aid package until it falls below this threshold.Schools have policies that determine which aid is reduced.
Some schools try to ensure that students receive the most benefit from external scholarships by reducing student loan and work-study amounts. Other schools replace previously awarded institutional grants and scholarships with the external scholarship so that other students may benefit from the institutional aid. Many schools policies lie somewhere in between these polar opposites.Tell your students and their families to ask the school financial aid office how they treat outside scholarship awards. We believe that it’s still important to encourage your students to seek out as many scholarships as possible. Even though scholarships may reduce the amount of federal, state, and other financial aid they receive from their schools, the student will benefit from more “free” money toward college costs.
Is Completing the FAFSA Worth it – YES!
Filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only way you can be recognized as eligible for federal, need-based aid. If you don't fill out the FAFSA, you won't receive federal aid. Many students across the country don't fill out the FAFSA year after year assuming they won't qualify for aid.
Education about federal aid is extremely important. Unless paying for a college education at an accredited four-year or community college is just a drop in the bucket of your family's finances, you should definitely submit the FAFSA. Any college student is eligible to receive need-based aid if their expected family contribution (EFC - determined by the FAFSA to indicate your family’s financial strength) is less than the cost of attendance (COA). Many families qualify for need-based aid, but this can only be determined if you fill out the FAFSA. Also, the FAFSA is also required when applying for unsubsidized Stafford Loans, Parent PLUS loans, and Grad PLUS loans, none of which are need-based. As long as you are working towards a degree, you can be eligible, and should file.
Optimizing Your Financial Aid Offer
For many students, the financial aid offer plays a critical role in the school they select. Usually, your financial aid offer letter will list the total cost of attendance and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – funds the school expects you and your parents have available to help pay for college costs. These numbers are followed by a list of grants and scholarships (free money) and work-study and loans (self-help aid) with dollar amounts for each.
What happens if your EFC does not seem affordable? The college financial aid system is largely formula driven, but financial aid offices also use what is referred to as "Professional Judgment" or "PJ” to amend financial aid offers. This means that financial aid administrators can—depending on the school’s evaluation of your situation—modify your EFC on a case-by-case basis. Contact your school’s financial aid administrator to discuss if there is any way he or she can use their professional judgment to create a better financial aid offer.
Explain why you want to attend that particular college. Be specific. Explain what the college offers that makes it such a great fit with your needs. Your case is always much stronger if the administrator hears how much you want to attend their college. Remember that you may want to take the approach of gently mentioning a better offer from the other college, but emphasizing that this college is the one where you really want to go. Ask how you can work with them to make that possible.
Explain why you can't pay the suggested amount. Again, be specific. And don't fudge the truth. Sincerity is important, so it pays to be honest here about your family’s financial circumstances.
Mention any special conditions that affect your capacity to pay for college. For example, if you worked before starting college but understandably cannot work while in college, then you can report a "loss of income." Similarly, if a parent's earned income will be less than what it was reported for the prior year, you can report a decrease in income, as well. If such special conditions exist, you may need to document the change in income via a letter or a form. Be prepared to explain that the prior year’s income will no longer represent a realistic standard on which to base for your family’s ability to pay for college. Other examples of special conditions include loss of job, unexpected expenses, natural disasters, separation or divorce, etc.
Let the financial aid administrator know that you understand and appreciate how difficult his or her job really is. More than any other staff member in the college system, financial aid administrators are the architects of opportunity for young people. Remember that they want to help make your college degree possible. Treat them with the respect they deserve.
Waitlists – Can You Afford to Be the Understudy?
If the lead actor in a show cannot perform, the director looks to a prepared understudy to take the role. That is pretty much the same scenario for students on college waitlists. You still have to consider more than one part, be prepared to change quickly, and be ready to chalk up the experience to personal development.
Most often, college applicants can understand the emotional implications of being on a waitlist, but what if financial aid is an essential part of your college decision making process? If you need a substantial amount of aid, the waitlist is not where you want to be.
Our advice - read your waitlist letter carefully and ask the Admissions and Financial Aid offices about the financial implications. In the best case scenario, the letter or college representative will say that their college has a need-blind admission policy and will give you 100% of your financial needs if admitted from the waitlist. However, some colleges may say it depends on the availability of funds. By the time you are admitted, this year’s financial aid money may already be committed to others. You may find that you are admitted eventually, but the pool of financial aid has dried up.
If funding is important to your college selection, you may be able to get the college to commit to meeting your future need for aid, even though they have a shortfall this year. Ask the college to provide a preview of what you can expect a year from now.
Whether you decide to remain on the waitlist or not, be sure you are aware of the financial implications of your decision.
What Happens After the FAFSA?
You’ve taken the time to submit the FAFSA. So what happens next? The information in your FAFSA is submitted to the Department of Education's Central Processing System. That’s where financial aid awarding begins.
If you submitted the FAFSA online, you should receive an email once your application has been processed with a link to an online document called the Student Aid Report (SAR). Using the same PIN you set up to electronically sign the FAFSA, you can view the SAR online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. You'll also get this same email notification if you submitted the FAFSA by mail and provided an email address, but it could take about 14 days longer.
In your SAR, you will find summarized data outlining your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) towards your total cost of education. Make certain the information is correct.
If you find that you made a mistake when filing, don't worry! You can make corrections after the application has been processed. You MUST do this online with a PIN. You may want to notify the schools who received your SAR so they know to expect an updated version.
Your SAR is made available to the schools you listed at the same time as you receive it. Many financial aid offices start evaluating your aid eligibility immediately after receiving the SAR. Be aware that many schools may request more information from you, especially if you are selected for a process called verification or if your information on your SAR requires clarification.
You may start hearing from schools before you have decided to enroll, or even before you have been accepted. You may receive offers of financial assistance, or award letters, with a wide range of gift, loan or work options. Be sure to carefully read the information you receive from each school so you understand the amount and types of aid that are available to you.
Finding Money for College (PDF)
Financial Aid 101 (PDF)
Scholarships 101 (PDF)
Key Things to Remember about Financial Aid (PDF)
Federal Student Aid
College for All Texans
Understanding Your Cost to Attend
SimpleTuition Tips: Understanding Your Cost to Attend
The cost of attendance (COA) is generally a yearly figure that is designed to help summarize the various costs of enrolling at a school. It takes into account:
- Tuition and fees
Room and board, often determined by your on-campus housing selection or an estimate of off-campus expenses
Books and supplies, estimated for all students or by your field of study
- Other expenses, such as personal expenses (i.e., shampoo, movies, etc.), transportation, loan fees, and, under special circumstances, dependent care or unusual medical or dental expenses
SimpleTuition Tips: Financial Aid Thank You Notes
Have you sent a thank you note to all the folks who awarded money to help you pay for college? Financial aid administrators, scholarship chairs, and admissions officers rarely get notes of appreciation. Stand out from the crowd by sending them a short, hand-written thank you note.
Remind them of your story. Briefly let the person know how you plan to use your education and how the funding is making a difference for you and your family. If the person did anything that encouraged you or indicated he or she was willing to work with your situation, make certain to acknowledge it.
Don’t forget to share your good news with people in high places. If a financial aid or admission officer does something wonderful for you, send a letter to the college president praising the professionalism of that administrator. The president is likely to send a congratulatory note along with a copy of your letter to the financial aid administrator, which may ensure additional goodwill.
Sending a thank you note can have a lasting effect. Often, the recipients associate you as a person, not just a student ID number during your college career.
"Sticker prices" of colleges these days are so high that the numbers can make one's heart skip a beat or two. We're here to tell you that the intimidating cost of college shouldn't stop you from attending the college of your dreams. The truth is that you can make college more affordable than you realize.
Here's the good news: the majority of people qualify for financial aid. What is unknown is whether your aid package will fully cover the amount of aid for which you're eligible. To find out where you stand financially with any college, check out SimpleTuition’s College Cost Adjuster at www.simpletuition.com. First, you indicate the portion of cash from savings and income both you and your family feel is available. Next, you can either use estimated Cost of Attendance from the average financial aid award or use your financial aid letter/offer to plug in your specific details, if you have already completed the financial aid process.
Using SimpleTuition’s award letter comparison tool, you can review the monthly payment for your student loans or your parent financing options. In addition, you can adjust the parent/student debt obligation in real time to see the effects of borrowing more money for the total costs not covered by financial aid.
Our advice: confirm that you CAN afford the school of your choice! Customize your financial aid to find a monthly payment you can afford when you graduate, so you don't have to face the full “sticker price.”