UNDERSTANDING FINANCIAL AID - By Alcides Pina

  • 10/01/2018 10:32

 

Understanding the financial aid process is needless to say, of paramount importance.  If you are currently a  high school senior heading to college next fall (September 2018) you need to make sure you understand all the pieces in the financial aid puzzle and you must include your parents in the process.  Your guidance counselor is an important resource in helping you to  navigate the financial aid process.  Not only is it important to have a solid understanding about financial aid, but it is also critical to be aware of the many deadlines associated with it.  This article will help you to understand different types of financial aid, the financial aid timeline, as well as the forms you'll need to complete in order to apply for financial aid.

WHAT IS FINANCIAL AID?  Financial aid is any type of financial assistance provided to you by the federal government, your state, the colleges and universities and private organizations to help you with the educational expenses.

TYPES OF FINANCIAL AID:  

*Grants and scholarships-Grants and scholarships are gift aid that do not have to be paid back and are based on a student's financial need or merit.  

*Private Scholarships-Private, local, and national organizations offer private scholarships.  Check with your counselor, parents' employers and community and civic organizations to find out about local and national scholarships.  Check the guidance office of your high school for scholarship applications.

*Work-Study-Work Study programs allow students to work part time on or near the college campus while in college.  Students earn their awards by being paid directly for the hours that they work. Earnings may be used for any expenses and the award isn't deducted from the college bill.  Instead, the student gets a paycheck throughout the academic year for working.

*Federal Students Loans-Federal student loans are available to eligible students regardless of income or credit score.  They offer fixed interest rates and various repayment options.  Be sure to check with your college financial aid office about different borrowing options.  

WHAT FORMS DO I NEED TO FILL OUT TO APPLY FOR FINANCIAL AID?

The three main financial aid forms are the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, and in some cases, the college's  own financial aid application.  The FAFSA is required by every school in the country.  The CSS/Financial Aid Profile is required by some 3 percent of colleges in the country and they are mostly private institutions.  

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I APPLY FOR FINANCIAL AID?

After you apply for financial aid, the schools you listed on the FAFSA will review your application and determine your eligibility for financial aid.  If a college contacts you to request additional information, make sure that you respond to all communications in a timely manner.  

THE FINANCIAL AID TIMELINE AND HOW TO APPLY:

The FAFSA and CSS/Financial Aid Profile forms are Available online on October 1st.  For seniors who will be attending college in September 2018, these forms became available on October 1, 2017.  As mentioned before, every school requires the FAFSA.  Check with your school to see if it also requires the CSS/Financial Aid Profile and other financial aid requirements.   To apply for the FAFSA, both the student and the parent will need to apply for an FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov.  Your FSA ID will be used to log in to the FAFSA website.  After creating your FSA ID, you can than proceed to the FAFSA website to complete the FAFSA form at FAFSA.gov.  You will need a copy of your tax returns and W2s in order to complete the FAFSA.  If your school requires the  CSS/Financial Aid Profile, you can apply at Collegeboard.org.  While CSS/Financial Aid profile collects more information than the FAFSA, these forms are used to assess your family's income and assets in order to determine the family's ability to pay for college.  Once the Federal Government receives the FAFSA  it will than come up with a formula called Expected Family Contribution or EFC.  Schools will use the EFC to determine how much you will get in financial aid and how much the parent is expected to contribute towards your education.  While it is free to apply for the FAFSA, there is a fee to apply for CSS/Financial Aid Profile.  Check with your counselor to see if you qualify for a fee-waiver so that you won't have to pay for the CSS Profile.  

Be sure to apply for financial aid on October 1st of senior year or soon thereafter.  Remember, you're dealing with federal aid, and different schools have different financial aid deadlines.  Also, Massachusetts and other states offer grants and scholarships and tuition waivers for eligible residents.  The state uses the information you submitted on the FAFSA to determine your eligibility.  Visit osfa.mass.edu for more information.  After you apply for financial aid, your school will send you your financial aid package.  While timeline for getting your financial aid package varies from school to school, financial aid award letters are typically sent to accepted students between March-April.   Read your award letter carefully and make sure your understand the entire financial aid package.  You can accept the package in its entirety or just parts of it.  For example, you can accept just the grants and scholarships' part of the package and reject the loans.  The financial aid office at your school will answer any questions you may have about your package.  (As long as you are in college, you'll need to apply for financial aid every year).

MAY 1:  The national deadline to select your school and submit the tuition deposit.

SENIOR YEAR:  Make sure you and your family learn about financial aid opportunities at each school to which you're applying.  The following is a list of financial aid questions to ask each college's financial aid office:

*What is the total cost of attendance at your college?

*What financial aid forms are required and what is the application deadline?

*Does you college offer merit-based scholarships?

*Are there scholarships/grants that are renewable each year?  If so, does the student have to maintain a certain grade      point average and meet other conditions?          

*What is the average financial aid package at your college and what is the college's average student debt upon graduation?

 

MEFA-Massachusetts Education Financing Authority.  If you need more assistance paying for college, MEFA is a great organization that offers low, fixed interest loans to students and parents.  MEFA can also help with planning, saving and paying for college.  Check out the website at mefa.org.  Contact MEFA  by emailing them at info@mefa.org, or by calling them at 800-449-6332.

GOOD LUCK APPLYING FOR FINANCIAL AID AND MAKE SURE YOU ARE AWARE OF ALL YOUR DEADLINES.  IF YOU HAVE NOT  YET APPLIED FOR FINANCIAL  AID, YOU'RE STILL ENCOURAGED TO DO SO.  DO IT ASAP.

BY:  Alcides Pina (apina@wbridgewater.com)

       School Counselor/AP and Testing Coordinator, West Bridgewater Middle-Senior High School (Jan. 2018)