College financial aid is a source of great hope, frequent confusion and often bitter disappointment. To get a handle on the topic, start by considering three points:
- While there are scholarships available for the academically and athletically gifted, much financial assistance consists of aid that is based on a family’s financial need. This need is captured by a notion known as EFC, or expected family contribution.
- Financial aid can take the form of subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, work study and grant money. If your children qualify for financial aid and they’re desirable to colleges because of their academic brilliance, athletic abilities or some other quality, colleges may tweak an aid package to include more grant money. Indeed, if you are disappointed with the aid package that your child is offered, consider appealing to one of the college’s financial aid officers. Such appeals are often successful if your child is the type of student the college is looking to recruit.
- While folks often talk about the financial aid formula, there are actually two formulas. One is used by the federal government, which is the biggest source of financial aid and which assesses aid eligibility using information you provide in the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a daunting form with more than 100 questions. The other formula, known as the institutional methodology, is used by many private colleges when doling out their own money. These schools require that you also fill out the CSS Profile form, which includes additional details not included on the FAFSA. (CSS stands for College Scholarship Service.) While federal grants typically go to poorer families, private colleges use their endowments to distribute significant amounts of grant money to middle-class families.
To learn more about college financial aid, check out FinAid.org, an independent website, and also the U.S. Department of Education’s StudentAid.gov.
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