Navigating The Maze of Financial Aid

As parents and students stuggle to make decisions about which colleges to apply to and eventually attend, they are faced with an increasingly complex and confusing financial aid picture. This may seem strange since families now have more information available to them about financial aid than ever before. The College Affordability and Transparencey Center is certainly one valuable tool provided by the U.S. Department of Education. This site provides valuable and unbiased information about the true cost of attending different colleges throughout the nation.

There is growing concern that what many colleges refer to as “aid” is now laden private loans that many students and families struggle for years or even to decads to pay off or part-time jobs that offer students extremely low wages. The long- term value of a college education is usually quite substantial, however there are wide variations in the cost of the investment required to reach that value.

A growing number of colleges are eliminating what is know as “need blind” admissions policies. There are also variations in how various colleges define “need blind.” Some experts are now recommending that students do not indicate that they plan on applying for financial aid when completing the Common Application. The Commom Application is now used by over 500 colleges and universities across the nation.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that some of the country’s most elite universities are actually among the most affordable to attend. This is because the endowments of those universities are so large that they can afford to meet all demonstrated financial need with non-loan based aid.

We recommend that students apply to a range of schools, without complete regard to cost, while keeping mind that they will not know how much various schools will cost them to attend until they receive the financial aid letters from those colleges. We also recommend that students apply to at least one “financial safety” school. This is a school that the student and family feels quite sure they can afford. Many schools have excellent calculator tools available on their websites that students and families can use to estimate how much it will cost a student to attend that school. College financial aid officers are also usually quite valuable and honest resources to contact

Fore a more complete examination of this topic check out, What You Don’t Know About Financial Aid (but should) , by Richard Perez- Pena. Mr. Perez-Pena is a national correspondent that writes about higher education for the New York Times. Mr. Perez-Pena and Mark Katrowitz, a nationally recoginzed expert on financial aid, responded to reader’s questions in, Questions About Financial Aid , also published in The Times. A number of complicated issues, regarding, divoreced, separated,or never married parents are addressed in this posting. If you believe you have a more complex financial or family situation, we recommend that you check out this article. A phone call to your college’s financilal aid office is also highly recommended.

Read More

Negotiating College Financial Aid

Many families wonder if it is possible to negotiate to receive additional financial assistance once they receive financial aid packages from colleges. This is a complex question that depends on numerous factors. One thing that can improve, but not necessarily guarantee, the possibility of receiving more assistance is the ability to demonstrate additional financial need with solid evidence. Another factor is if a family’s financial circumstances have changed significantly since they submitted the FAFSA(Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. Some examples of such changes include the addition of a family member, the loss of a job, a serious family illness leading to large medical bills, or the death of a parent. These situations certainly represent changes in a family’s financial need and should be communicated to the college office of financial aid.

Another possible source of negotiation is if one discovers that an error was committed when completing the FAFSA. Any such errors should be communicated to the office of financial aid. Some colleges do show greater flexibility than others in the awarding of additional financial aid. The high quality of student compared to the average admission profile at some, but not all, schools can give a family additional negotiating power.

Some college financial aid officers have expressed that they appreciate when a student, not his or her parents, advocates for more aid. This demonstrates that the student is taking responsibility for his or her financial future.

Most college financial aid officers are dedicated professionals that work diligently to make sure that students get all of the aid for which they qualify. It is important for students to always communicate with these professionals in a courteous and respectful way.

For a more detailed review of this subject check out Appealing to a College for More Financial Aid by Ron Lieber as it appeared in the My Money section of the New York Times on April 4, 2014.

Read More