College is a huge investment of time, energy and money. The money factor puts a lot of stress on students and families because they think that they cannot afford a college education. Luckily, there is financial aid to help with the cost. However, the world of financial aid can be quite intimidating and confusing because each college has its own financial aid policies.
To help you understand the financial aid process at each college, I’ve provided a list of questions you can ask either the Admissions Representatives or Financial Aid staff at each college you are considering.
Questions to ask before applying
General questions about financial aid can be answer by either the admissions representatives or the financial aid advisors. You can contact either department early in the admissions process about financial aid.
What is the total cost of attendance?
Cost of attendance should include tuition, fees, room and board and other costs that must be paid directly to the college. The cost they quote might also include estimates for books and transportation. These items are not paid directly to the college, but are considered a cost you will have while attending college.
Are there other fees I might have to pay that are not published with the general cost of attendance?
At many colleges, some courses will require extra fees. The fee is usually published in the course catalog or class listings, but these are typically not something incoming students see before making their final decision on the college. If there are extra fees, it might be worth asking if you can see a list of all possible additional fees the college may charge.
If there are extra fees to be paid, are they added into MY cost of attendance when figuring out financial aid?
Some colleges will figure these extra costs in, while others do not. It’s good to find out.
How much has the cost of attendance increased over the past four years? Do you expect the cost of attendance to increase at the same rate during my time at the college?
The cost of attendance increases at many colleges every year. It is important to know that what you’re paying your first year will probably be less than what you’ll pay your last year of college.
If the cost of attendance goes up during my time at the college, will financial aid increase as well?
Scholarship amounts do not have to go up with the rising cost of attendance. It is up to the individual college to determine scholarship amounts. Some colleges will increase scholarships, while others will not. If aid does go up, you might see it in loan amounts.
What percentage of your students graduate in four years?
This is an important question because there are many colleges in the country that have students graduating in an average of five years or more. If it takes you five years to graduate, that is five years of tuition and fees to pay! That’s probably a year more than you were expecting. There are many reasons students take longer to graduate. If most students are not graduating in four years, you might want to ask why not.
If the percentage of students that graduate in four years is low, will financial aid, including scholarships, be offered past the fourth year of attendance?
Many scholarship programs are offered with the idea that students will graduate in four years. An additional year may not be covered. This is important to understand because you may not receive any free money after the fourth year.
Besides the FAFSA, is there another application I must submit to be considered for financial aid?
Many colleges do not require anything other than the FAFSA, but there are still some that need more information. You don’t want miss any opportunity for financial aid.
What are the deadlines for applying for financial aid?
Again, you don’t want to miss your opportunity to get financial aid. Students that submit financial aid documentation after the deadline could miss out on scholarships.
Questions to ask after you receive your financial aid award letters
Are the scholarships I received renewable?
Most financial aid award letters will state the terms of the scholarships and grants, but if not, make sure you ask. Colleges sometimes add one-time scholarships to financial aid award letters to encourage a student to choose them over another school.
If the scholarships are renewable, what must I do to renew the scholarships?
You want to make sure that you will be able to do what is required to keep the scholarship.
Will there be opportunities to get more scholarships after the first year?
Some scholarships are only available to first year students. But, there may be others that are only open to upperclassman. It’s good to find out if you’ll have more opportunities to get scholarships.
How can outside scholarships affect my financial aid award letter?
Outside scholarships at some colleges don’t change the scholarships that colleges offer students. At other colleges, the outside scholarships you receive could lower the aid a college offers you.
If offered work-study, are work-study jobs guaranteed? If not guaranteed, what is the process of obtaining a work-study job on campus?
Work-study jobs are not always guaranteed. Many times, students will have to seek out and interview for work-study jobs. It’s good to know this ahead of time so that you can figure out where you want to apply to work.
If I am not offered work-study, are there part-time jobs available on campus?
Some colleges have extra jobs on campus for students that did not qualify for work-study. Others do not.
If you did not receive enough financial aid, can I appeal for more financial aid?
The answer should always be yes. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you can receive more financial aid. Some colleges have tighter budgets for financial aid than others, but if you state your case and show your interest in attending the college, they could increase your financial aid.
If your circumstances have changed since filing the FAFSA, how do I let the college know? Can this change the amount of financial aid I was offered?
Many times, if circumstances have changed, you can notify the college. They may ask for documentation or proof, but they could make changes to your award letter. Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
What are the requirements for paying my student account bill?
After financial aid is figured in, most students will still have a balance to pay to the school. At some colleges, the balance is due on the first day of classes. Other colleges require the balance to be paid by the end of the semester/quarter. There are also colleges that allow students to set-up payment plans. It is important to find out your payment options so that you don’t get charged late fees – that just adds to your cost of attendance!
I hope that the questions above will help you to find all of the information you need about financial aid at the colleges you are considering. By taking the time to ask these questions, you’ll make the most informed decision when applying to colleges and choosing the colleges you will ultimately attend.