Here's How

It is never too early to begin discussing how to pay for college. All too often, "How are we going to pay?" questions are put off by families until after the student has been admitted.

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Good college planning involves both admission planning—compiling a college list, evaluating your chances of admission, and, if necessary, working to improve your academic record and financial planning—figuring out how you are going to pay for college.

Most families spend the bulk of their energy on the admission process, dreaming about the possibilities, only to discover their student’s first-choice schools aren’t affordable. This can lead to missing out on other terrific school options because all the financial aid information needed to make the best decision wasn't investigated. We don’t want that to happen to you.

Good research and information up front on all aspects of the college choice can help you better refine the list of schools to which you apply and make the decision of which school to attend after acceptance, a truly joyous event. 

Screen Shot from StudentPrep

Screen Shot from StudentPrep

Note: The Estimated Real Costs results are based upon the likely student merit award and/or need aid awarded by each school being considered. The StudentPrep model incorporates the policies and available resources specific to each college and the state in which it is located, as awards vary from school to school and from state to state.

StudentPrep and Financial Aid

StudentPrep financial tools help you know before your student applies to a school their Estimated Real Cost of attendance. Yes, you can use the Net Price Calculator found in the financial aid section of a college’s website, but you will need to do each school individually. Enter your information one time into StudentPrep’s secure personal financial aid form and let our planner do the work for you, comparing the Estimated Real Cost of each school you’ve selected. Don’t be surprised if the cost of a private school is less than a state school.

Additional advantages of StudentPrep’s financial aid calculator are:

  • The Cost & Aid feature in StudentPrep is easy to adjust. If your family’s financial situation changes, you can update the information and get a real-time view of the impact so you stay current in your financial planning.
  • Helps you organize the information you will need to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS Profile that many schools require. (More on the forms below)
  • Focus your search and reduce wasted time by eliminating schools where the financial aid and scholarship awards don’t meet your college budget.
  • StudentPrep is private and secure. Your information is not sent to any schools or loan generators. You will not be deluged with emails from colleges on your list or from private financial institutions looking to sell you a student loan.

Types of Financial Aid

The majority of financial aid is administered by the colleges, referred to as institutional aid.  There are three types of financial aid and scholarships:

  • Need Aid

  • Merit Scholarships

  • State Aid

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Need Aid

Financial assistance that is provided after it has been determined that your family does not have the financial resources to pay the entire yearly cost. An evaluation of eligibility for need aid requires the submission of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

  • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): It is available October 1st of each year. Send it in as soon as possible after the 1st. Visit https://fafsa.ed.gov/ to access the form.

Note:  For incoming college freshmen, the FAFSA must be completed and submitted after October 1st of the student's senior year in high school. The sooner the better, to receive maximum consideration for scholarships and financial aid awards.  

In addition to the FAFSA, a number of colleges (primarily private institutions with their own need funds) require the PROFILE, a fee-based aid application administered by the College Board.

Your family is determined to have "need" if the expected family contribution (EFC) that is calculated from the FAFSA or PROFILE is less than the yearly cost of school your submitted the form to.

If the EFC is equal to or more than the yearly cost, your family is judged "no-need." Need aid is usually given in a "package" consisting of a grant ("gift aid," like a scholarship), a student loan, and a work-study job. The sum of a student loan and the work-study job is called the "self-help" amount, because you bear the burden of repaying the loan and working at an on-campus job.

In evaluating a need-based award, it is important to look at both the total amount of aid and the size of the grant compared to the self-help amount.

Merit Scholarships

Many colleges offer merit scholarships that you automatically qualify for when you send in your application. Depending on your major, some schools may require you to apply separately for departmental scholarships.

Merit money is awarded based on any number of factors other than the financial situation of your family. The most common merit scholarships are associated with academic achievement, talent, character, the field of study, service to others and meeting scholarship donor restrictions.

Some students receive merit scholarships from outside organizations, but the primary sources of merit scholarships are colleges. Four-year scholarships typically require the student to maintain a minimum GPA or continue to meet other academic standards to be renewed.

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State Aid

Financial assistance that is provided by a state to its residents. All states offer some form of student aid through need and merit aid programs. State aid is generally offered through a school’s Financial Aid office but it’s smart to check with your state’s Department of Education to see their requirements.

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Additional Resources

Private scholarships are available to help students meet the financial requirements of attending college. Selected resources can be researched at: