Financial Aid Tips for First-Time College Applicants
September marks the beginning of not only a new admissions cycle, but also the process of applying for financial aid. The process of requesting financial aid could be more complex. I’ll try to help you started on the financial aid process in this post, so read on!
Who should apply for financial aid?
Every family applying to college for the first time should complete a FAFSA, even if they do not expect to qualify for need based aid. Some schools will use information from the FAFSA to consider applicants for merit aid. In addition, if you have more children who expect to attend college at the same time in the near future, the school will need your history of FAFSAs to consider your family for aid later.
What forms are required to apply for financial aid?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), used by all colleges that accept Federal and state aid and the CSS Profile, required by a much smaller number of colleges, go live on October 1st. Both forms rely on information from your 2018 Federal tax return, but the CSS-Profile will take more assets into account and ask you to project your income for 2019 and 2020. Some schools might also ask you to submit your actual tax return.
The CSS Profile is used mainly by private schools, some that have large budgets to meet financial need, others that do not. The schools that choose to use it want to be sure that a family taps its own resources first, no matter how limited, before they choose to use their own funds to reduce your costs.
The FAFSA is not especially cumbersome. It is linked to your tax information on file with the IRS, with some additional questions to answer. But you must enter this information line by line on the CSS Profile. That might be extremely cumbersome, but easier if your complete the FAFSA first.
What does it cost to apply for financial aid?
Filing the FAFSA is free. The College Board will charge $25 for families to send the CSS Profile to one college or scholarship and $16 for each additional college or scholarship. First-time applicants from low-income families may get a fee waiver for up to six schools or scholarships. But such students may also qualify for fee waivers on their application for admission.
When should I apply for financial aid?
While no family should rush to complete the FAFSA on the very first day it goes live, it is a good idea to complete it before November 1st. This will be in advance of deadlines for scholarships and consideration for admissions under Early Action and Early Decision. The same applies to schools that also require the CSS Profile.
How might the process of applying for financial aid impact applying for admission.
The schools that your family chooses might depend, in part, on how much information the college requires. For example:
- Schools that require only the FAFSA do not consider the equity that you hold in your home. Schools that require the FAFSA and the CSS Profile will consider home equity—the schools will have their own formulas—and will ask you to estimate the market value of your home if you had to sell it within 30 days.
- Schools that require only the FAFSA will not consider the income and assets of a non-custodial parent in the event that both of a student’s parents are divorced. Schools that require the FAFSA and the CSS Profile will consider them, unless the school approves a waiver.
The College Board publishes a list of schools that require the CSS Profile. Most are private although some of the most selective state universities such as the College of William and Mary, Georgia Tech, the University of Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia request it as well, even for residents.
If you are considering schools that require the CSS Profile and feel uncomfortable about disclosing more financial information, you could opt not to apply to any schools that require it. However, as you go down the list of schools to require the CSS Profile to find those that match the schools on your family’s list, ask yourself:
- Is this school going to offer a significant advantage in terms of academic or pre-professional options versus another that requires only the FAFSA?
- Could we afford this school, even if we receive no financial aid?
- If we need aid, what is the school’s history of meeting full need?
- Is the school located in my home state, where we might qualify for state aid to help reduce costs, even at a private college?
- Has the school openly disclosed information about merit-based that aid that we are likely to receive?
- If you are divorced, will the non-custodial parent be willing to help you manage college costs?
- If no, have other parents told you that they did or did not receive a waiver?
While being denied from a first-choice school in college admissions can be heartbreaking, it is no less devastating to be accepted only to be told that a school will not come close to meeting your full need, after you have done all of the work to get in. Your honest answers to these questions above in September might help to avoid the heartbreak next spring.
Need help to develop your answers to those questions above? Contact me at email@example.com, or call me at 609-406-0062.