Financial aid is a very popular topic this time of year. For many students, financial aid may be the determining factor when choosing a college. Financial aid award letters will answer a lot of questions. However, there may be more questions you should ask before committing to a college. Some questions can easily be answered by reviewing the financial aid website, while others will need to be answered by someone in the admissions or financial aid offices at the colleges you are considering. Below are 15 questions about financial aid you should have answered before making your financial decision.
1. What is the total cost of attendance?
Back when you were applying for admission, the upcoming year’s cost of attendance may not have been finalized. However, the college should know the cost of attendance now. If it is not published on your financial aid award letter, you should be able to find it on the college website. It is important to know exactly how much you will be paying to attend the college for the year.
2. Are there other fees I might have to pay?
Some courses have additional fees that are not included in the cost of attendance. For example, some colleges have additional fee for science courses with labs. Most of these fees are published in the course catalog.
3. Are extra fees added into my cost of attendance when figuring out financial aid?
Some colleges will include the extra costs when determining financial aid, while others may not.
4. How much has the cost attendance increased over the past four years? Will the cost of attendance increase at the same rate over the next four years?
Many colleges increase their cost of attendance every year. However, the high cost of college has been the subject of many national news stories and it has led some colleges to freeze their costs. Check with the colleges you are considering to see if the they will be increasing the cost during your time at the school.
5. Will financial aid increase as cost of attendance increases?
Some colleges will recalculate financial aid every year, while others will offer very similar aid every year. If aid does not increase but cost of attendance does, will you be able to afford the college in the future?
6. What percentage of students graduate in four years?
It may not be possible for all college students to graduate in four years. Some colleges are very good at getting students to graduate in four years, while others have high five or six year graduation rates. If you are in college for five years, that is five years of tuition! If there is a high percentage of students taking longer than four years to graduate, it may be worth it to ask why it is taking longer to graduate.
7. Will scholarships be offered past the fourth year?
Many scholarships have a four-year limit and will not be offered in the fifth year.
8. Are scholarships renewable?
Some colleges offer one-time scholarships to their financial aid award letters to “sweeten the deal” to encourage students to commit. Make sure you know if the financial aid you are awarded will be renewed in the future or not.
9. What must I do to renew scholarships?
Most financial aid will require students to file the FAFSA every year. In addition to the FAFSA, many scholarships have requirements students must meet for scholarships to be renewed. For example, merit scholarships typically have a required GPA students must maintain while in school. Learn about the renewal process and ask yourself if you will be able to meet the requirements.
10. Are there opportunities for more scholarships after the first year?
When I worked on college campuses, many students really wanted to attend my institution and would commit even if they could not afford the institution. A common thought among these students is that they would qualify for more aid in the future. However, some colleges do not have additional aid to offer returning students, while others do.
11. How will outside scholarships affect my financial aid?
Colleges have different policies about outside scholarships. Some colleges will reduce the amount of loans offered, while others may reduce gift (free money) aid. If an outside scholarship could reduce your institutional scholarships and grants, you may find it is not worth it to apply for outside scholarships.
12. Are work-study jobs guaranteed? What is the process of obtaining a work-study job?
Any additional aid in work-study money may seem appealing. However, it will not just be given to you. Some colleges have a lot of work-study positions available, while others do not have enough for all of the students who were awarded work-study. Most students will probably need to seek out work-study positions, send in an application and resume, and interview for work-study positions.
13. Are there part-time jobs available on campus that do not require work-study?
Some colleges may only be able to offer work-study positions, while others open campus jobs to everyone.
14. What is the process for appealing for more financial aid?
Sometimes students do not receive enough financial aid for their circumstances. Talk to the financial aid office to see what they can do to help. Some will have an appeal process that will ask the student and parents to provide documentation to prove they need more financial aid to attend the institution.
15. How do I pay my bill?
After financial aid is applied to your student bill, there will probably still be a balance on your student account. Some colleges will want your balance paid by the first day of the semester or quarter. If you cannot pay the full amount at that time, some colleges have payment plans. Check with the colleges to learn how this process works and if there are additional fees that will be added to your bill if you take advantage of a payment plan.
Paying for college is one of the most common concerns for students and families. Before committing to a college, make sure you know everything you need to know about financial aid at the colleges you are considering.