8 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Before Applying for Financial Aid
Question #1 – Does your school guarantee to meet 100% of my child’s financial need at your school, and if not, what percentage of need does your school meet for the average student?
Most schools do not meet 100% of a student’s financial need. It is important for you to know this information, in advance, before your child spends time and money applying to a particular school that will NEVER be able to give you the money you need to send your child to that college.
Question #2 – Does your school have a standard “unmet need” formula for students who apply for financial aid?
If a school says “Yes,” you want to know by how much they leave the average student short. For example, if your child has a need of $10,000 at a school and they have an average “unmet need” of 50%, they will probably only award you $5,000, and ask you to come up with the other $5,000 on your own.
Make sure you find this out before you apply; it could end up saving you a lot of time and money!
Question #3 – Does your school have a ceiling on the maximum amount of financial aid a student can qualify for?
Some schools have maximum ceilings of $5,000 per student. If this turns out to be the case, and you are eligible to receive $10,000 – you’re out of luck.
Question #4 – If my financial need remains the same for the next 4 years, will my child receive the same financial aid package in years 2, 3, and 4 at your school?
Some schools will award students a great package the first year to attract them to go to their school.
Then, in years 2, 3, and 4, they offer them a much lower package even though their financial need is the same, since the school knows there is a very slim likelihood that the student will transfer after they’ve already attended that college for 1 year.
Make sure you find out their policy on this beforehand…
Question #5 – If my family’s financial need increases in year 2 at your college, will your financial aid package be adjusted accordingly, or will it remain the same?
Some schools will not adjust a student’s financial aid package after the first year. This becomes a serious problem especially if the family’s income drops in the later years of college.
You must know this up front, so you won’t have to make a tough decision later.
Question #6 – If my child doesn’t apply for financial aid in his/her freshman year of college, can he/she apply for aid in future years?
In some cases, it may make sense for you not to apply for aid for the freshman year, especially if you haven’t done the proper planning and your financial assets are in the wrong places; i.e., spots where the schools will count them against your Expected Family Contribution.
However, some schools have policies of giving priority consideration to students at the school who are already receiving financial aid.
If this is the school’s policy, you may be shut out from getting financial aid for all 4 years.
Find this out before you apply!
Question #7 – Does your school have a “cut-off” date for guaranteeing that a student will receive financial aid?
If they do, make sure you get your financial aid forms in before their cut-off date, or there’s a good chance you won’t get any financial aid. Financial aid often times is first come – first serve. Plan ahead and get your application in early!
Question #8 – What is your school’s policy on packaging outside scholarships into a financial aid award package?
Some schools will replace the free money you found with free money they were going to award you. So, in effect, you gain nothing by finding an outside scholarship.
Other schools will allow the outside scholarship to replace the loan money they were going to give you. Obviously, it’s better if they replace loan money rather than FREE money.
Make sure you find out each school’s policy before you apply.
Ensuring you receive the maximum amount of financial aid possible for your student comes down to several key things – a timely application, a flexible school and a smart and effective management of your family’s finances.
Being late with your application, ending up stuck at a school with rigid rules on aid, or failing to bring your EFC down as low as legally possible for your specific situation can be mistakes that damage your financial well being for years.
In the meantime, remember to ask these 8 questions before applying to a college. They could end up saving you a ton of time, money, and frustration.
To your college funding & admissions success,
Co-founder, College Planning Network, LLC