FINANCIAL AID: Step by Step
Step 1: DEFINITION
Financial aid is a combination of funds (i.e., grants, loans, and work awards) from a variety of sources (federal, state, institutional), which supplements the financial contribution that a student is able to make toward meeting the costs of a college education. The estimated family contribution (EFC) is estimated according to a standard formula. The EFC is then subtracted from the total cost of the institution. The difference between the institution costs and the estimated family contribution determine the amount of financial aid award eligibility. Awards of need-based aid are based solely on financial criteria. (Merit-based aid is awarded in the form of scholarships based on some type of competitive criteria, such as outstanding academic performance, noteworthy achievement in co-curricular or extracurricular activities, etc.). For more information about understanding financial aid and EFC, see the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) website: http://www.mefa.org/payforcollege/payforcollege.aspx?id=1304
STEP 2: APPLICATION
Never be embarrassed to apply for financial aid. The information you provide is always kept strictly confidential. Need-analysis documents should be submitted by the application deadline. Virtually all colleges/universities require that you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) www.fafsa.ed.gov. Fortunately, this form need only be completed once; you can designate the schools that you wish to receive the information. The service processing the document will automatically send to each designated school an analysis of your estimated family contribution. Do not file the FAFSA before January 1. However, actual deadlines for submission of the need-analysis document vary make sure you know the deadlines for the schools to which you are applying.
- Complete the form(s) that establish your eligibility for state grant aid. Information for your specific state is available from your guidance office. Most colleges require that you complete the appropriate application for state grants.
- Documentation: Your family financial records and income tax forms are the basic documentation that supports your case for financial aid. Many colleges require copies of your parents and your own Federal tax returns (IRS 1040) for their financial records. On occasion, additional supplemental data may also be requested, so be prepared. File your income tax early, and make extra copies of all pertinent documents for future use.
In addition, the CSS/Financial Aid Profile is a program of the College Scholarship Service (CSS), the financial aid division of the College Board. Many colleges, universities, graduate and pre-professional schools and scholarship programs use the information collected on Profile to help them award non-federal student aid funds. CSS does not award scholarship money or any other financial aid. A list of colleges and universities that require the Profile is available online and in the Guidance Office. You need to register to receive your application packet and may do so at College Board online www.collegeboard.com. Click on CSS/Profile under pay for college on the student homepage. Registration booklets are available in the Guidance Office.
STEP 3: ELIGIBILITY
Many students and parents assume that a high family income makes them ineligible for need-based aid. This is not necessarily true. Situations such as a large family, more than one child in college at one time, or parents nearing retirement will all affect estimated need.
Some schools offer no-obligation early estimation programs. An initial estimate of the family contribution is prepared from a simple form that requests basic family financial information about income, assets and liabilities. Ask admissions or financial aid representative at the schools in which you are interested if they offer this service the information can give a preliminary indication of your eligibility for financial aid and the approximate amount you might receive.
STEP 4: THE FINANCIAL AID AWARD
- Colleges and universities review the information provided by the need analysis service and the state grant agency and prepare a financial aid package.
- Different institutions may interpret the data from the need analysis service differently. The estimated family contribution may be higher or lower than that originally reported by the need analysis service. The financial aid office at each college has the final authority to create a financial aid package.
- A typical financial aid package includes a combination of nonrepayable federal and state grants (if applicable), loans, work-study, and non-repayable grants from the college or university. When you are admitted, you will be notified of the aid you are eligible to receive shortly after the admissions announcement.