Category Archives: Financial Aid

Financial Aid Award Letters

cashWhen your financial aid award letter comes in, don’t get too excited when the bottom line looks like this:

Estimated Remaining Cost = $0

After All Aid Applied

(including loans)

It’s easy to miss the fine print (“After all aid applied, including loans). That zero doesn’t mean that you are getting a full-ride scholarship, so make sure you look closely at the details.  Colleges like to package their award letters so it looks affordable, but only you can make that determination.  Colleges usually list “free money” (grants and scholarships) at the top.  This is what you care about the most, as it is money that comes off of your total cost.  After that, colleges will list loans and work-study, often with funny names.  Most loans fall into a few categories:

1) Direct Subsidized (government pays the interest while the student is in school)

2) Direct Unsubsidized (student pays the interest, or it accrues and is capitalized)

3) Direct (Parent) PLUS loans (for graduate students or parents of dependent students)

Colleges often list all or some of the above and possibly work-study (depending on your need) in varying amounts and subtract this amount from the total cost of attendance (minus grants and scholarships) to give you a delightfully, small bottom line.  But your real cost is the first subtotal (Cost of Attendance minus free money), PLUS interest and fees if you take out loans. Continue reading

The Four Pieces to a Complete College Application

checklistWith one month to go before the November 1st application deadlines that many students are trying to meet, it’s time to review the parts necessary to make an application complete.  For a student’s application to be reviewed, the following items need to arrive at the colleges by or BEFORE the deadline:

1-An Admission Application

2-Financial Aid Applications

3-Official Test Scores

4-School Report/Transcript (and possibly Letters of Recommendation)

1-Students are responsible for submitting a complete (and thoroughly checked) application that may or may not require supplemental essays. This is the most important piece of the application for students to get in on time! Sometimes colleges will give students a short grace period for test scores and recommendations to come in, but not always…so don’t count on it. But they will never accept a late application.

Well before the application deadline, it is wise for students to spend time reviewing every question they are asked to answer on an application, as well as carefully read the “Application Requirements” page on the college’s website. Each college has different preferences and requirements; it’s the student’s job to understand and follow these directions.

If supplemental essays are required, these should not be answered directly in the application, but first researched, reflected on, and drafted in a Word or Google document, then edited and reworked several times. Colleges know they are “a top-ranked institution” and are in sunny California or bustling New York City. Students need to go beyond generic answers and show how the programs and qualities of the college will help them achieve their goals.

Students will also be asked to answer, “What are your first and second choice majors at X College?” Many colleges carefully consider how prepared a student is for their intended major (i.e. if a student selects “Business,” colleges will be looking at the student’s math courses and scores on the SAT or ACT). Students should spend time researching if they will be evaluated based on their major choice, and make sure there are schools on their list that will admit them into their desired program.

Have someone double-check your application. It is easy to miss something when you are anxious about getting a college application turned in; a second set of (calm) eyes can be very helpful! Continue reading

Financial Aid Process for Seniors (Class of 2018)

Now that your student has a final (or almost final) list of colleges they are applying to, and they are busy working on their college applications, it’s time for parents (and the student) to prepare to apply for financial aid and scholarships. To apply for federal aid of any kind (grants, loans and work study) you will need to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid).

The government will use your FAFSA information to determine your need and eligibility for federal grants and loans. Individual schools will use the information from your FAFSA (and the Student Aid Report this generates) to determine what portion of their grants and scholarships, loans and work study programs to offer you.  Some schools require that you file the FAFSA for Merit-based scholarships, so please check each school on your list or your student’s list for their requirements before deciding if you will or will not file a FAFSA.


Financial aid


Prior to October 1st:

Prepare to file the FAFSA using your Prior-Prior-Year tax data (for students entering college fall of 2018, you will use your 2016 tax data). Read this page for answers to common questions and learn about items to have ready.  If you are a dependent student (and most students applying to college are), then you will also need most of the below information for your parent(s).

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool*.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically.

Continue reading

Scholarship Searching

Many seniors are on their way to having their college applications turned in (or will be soon), and are probably ready for a break from college, college, college! But, before closing the books on the college application process, I encourage you to consider spending time searching and applying for private scholarships.

As I tell the students I work with many times throughout our college list development together, the BEST way to get scholarships is to put together a good college list. By far, the most scholarship money (after need-based aid from the government) comes from schools themselves. Therefore, applying to schools where you are a top candidate or offer something schools want (top grades, a talent, diversity), is a great strategy.

Facts:Man Taking Letter From Mailbox

-There are a number of misconceptions about private scholarships. You can read about a few of them here. Scholarship search companies can skew the data a number of different ways to make them seem more plentiful than they actually are. Finding viable scholarships can take time, they are often relatively small amounts (average of $500-$1,000), can be for just your freshman year, often require an essay, and you usually have to apply to multiple to be awarded one (10:1 ratio is the average). Continue reading

Big Changes to the College Process

Big changes have been made recently to how students apply to colleges and how they apply for financial aid.  If you have a student graduating high school in 2017 or later, definitely read on.planningphoto

Most of you have heard about the redesigned SAT debuting in March 2016.  For seniors, this change is most likely too late to affect their college planning, but for students graduating 2017 or later, a tougher decision needs to be made.  The current SAT is much different than the ACT, which made it easier for most students to decide between one test or the other.  The current SAT is more of an “aptitude” test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities; the ACT is known as more of a curriculum-based “achievement” test, measuring what a student has learned in school. Because the SAT has been losing ground to its competitor, the redesign makes it much more similar to the ACT.  Students will have to spend a little more time, thought and perhaps full practice tests in order to determine which test to focus on.  See my blog on SAT vs. ACT to help you determine which test to take.   Continue reading

Colleges Will Lose Access to Students’ College Lists

By Kristen Miller, 8/27/15

The Department of Education announced on August 13th, 2015 that the 2016-2017 FAFSA will no longer share a student’s list of colleges to all of the schools on the student’s FAFSA form. When students and their parents fill out the FAFSA, they can list up to ten colleges they wish to receive their financial information. Prior to this change, all schools listed on a student’s FAFSA could see the order a student listed the schools. Studies have shown, and most colleges believe, that students list the colleges in order of preference; and some colleges have used this information to determine admission and scholarship decisions.

There has been a lot of attention and complaints lately on this strategic enrollment practice. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) was one of the outspoken groups. NACAC’s members of high school and independent counselors were upset with member colleges not abiding by the Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP) which prohibits colleges from requiring or asking “candidates or the secondary schools to indicate the order of the candidates’ college or university preferences.” Additionally, federal law prohibits the use of FAFSA information for anything other than awarding financial aid. Continue reading