When you receive your financial aid award from the college or colleges you want to attend, you may want to send in your enrollment deposit right away. However, do you have the answers to all of your financial questions? Probably not. While some colleges do an amazing job of including answers to most frequently asked questions, many colleges do not include this information with their financial aid award letters. Before committing to any college, make sure you have the answers to the following 18 questions related to financial aid so you can make the best financial decision for you and your family.
1. What is the total cost of attendance?
The number you have been using when thinking about paying for college was for this academic year. But, what is the cost of attendance for next year – the year you will be attending the college? Many colleges increase their tuition every few years. If the cost for next year is not published, contact the school to get this information.
2. Are there other fees?
Some courses will have additional fees that are not included in the cost of attendance. For example, some courses will have extra fees for materials. Look through the course catalog and look at the fees for the classes you will be taking in the future.
3. Are extra fees considered when financial aid is awarded?
Some colleges will include the extra costs when determining financial aid and others will not.
4. Will the cost of attendance increase during my time at the college?
A new trend at some colleges is to freeze tuition costs for current students. While the general cost may increase every year, current students will pay the same amount every year. However, other colleges may increase their tuition every year!
5. How much will the cost of attendance increase?
If you are considering a college that currently does not have a tuition freeze, ask how much the college expects to increase their tuition. The official figures may not be available, but they may be able to give you a percentage. If they cannot give you an estimate, ask for previous tuition numbers for the last five years. After studying the numbers, you may be able to figure out how much tuition might increase during your time at the college.
6. Will financial aid increase as the cost of attendance increases?
Some colleges recalculate financial aid ever year. Other colleges award the same amount every year no matter how much tuition increases. If aid does not increase but the cost of attendance does, will you be able to afford the college in the future?
7. Is it possible to pay in-state tuition?
If you are considering attending an out-of-state college that is a state-funded institution, you probably have seen the difference in tuition cost for in-state and out-of-state students. The in-state tuition is much more attractive! Some colleges have started to provide pathways to in-state tuition for out-of-state students. If this is an option, learn about the conditions and if it is feasible for you.
8. What is the likelihood of graduating in four years?
While they are called four-year colleges and universities, some students will not graduate in four years. Some colleges are very good at getting students to graduate in four years, but others have high five or six-year graduation rates. If you are in college for five years, that is five years of tuition! If there is a high percentage of students taking longer to graduate, it may be worth it to ask why it is taking them longer to graduate.
9. Will scholarships and grants be offered past the fourth year?
If there is a high likelihood of taking more than four years to graduate, will the college continue offering the same financial aid? Unfortunately, many scholarships have a four-year limit and will not be offered in the fifth year.
10. Are scholarships renewable?
Some colleges offer one-time scholarships to make their financial aid award letter seem more attractive to prospective students. Make sure you know if the financial aid you are awarded will be renewed in the future or not.
11. What are the requirements to renew scholarships?
You will need to submit the FAFSA every year. But, are there other requirements to renew scholarships? For example, if you receive an academic scholarships you will probably need to maintain a certain GPA during your time at the college. Learn about the renewal process and ask yourself if you will be able to meet the requirements.
12. Can I earn a scholarship as a current student?
A common thought among students is that they will qualify for more scholarships while they are at a college. However, some colleges only award scholarships at the time of admission.
13. How will outside scholarships affect financial aid?
The policy for outside scholarships may be different at the colleges you are considering. Some colleges will reduce the amount of loans you are offered and other colleges will reduce gift (institutional grants) aid. Why spend time applying to outside scholarships if they don't actually decrease the amount of money you will need to pay out-of-pocket.
14. Are work-study jobs guaranteed?
Some colleges have a lot work-study positions available and others do not. Just because you are awarded work-study does not mean you will have a guaranteed job at all college campuses.
15. What is the process of obtaining a work-study job?
If you want to use your work-study opportunity, you will probably have to apply for a position just like you would any other job. However, if it is competitive (more students than jobs), learn about the timeline and when you can start looking for and applying for work-study jobs.
16. Are there part-time jobs available on campus that do not require work-study?
Some colleges may only be able to offer work-study positions, while others open campus jobs to everyone.
17. Is more aid available?
If the amount of financial aid offered is still not enough for you to financially attend the college, is there more available? Talk to the financial aid office to discuss the gap. Sometimes financial aid officers might be able to offer an additional grant or scholarship. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
18. What is the appeal process?
Sometimes students do not receive enough financial aid based on their circumstances. For example, you weren’t able to share that your parent lost his or her job in the last year on the FAFSA. Talk to the financial aid office and share your circumstances. Colleges have a process for students to appeal their financial aid when their have special circumstances.