Financial aid can make a college education more affordable for parents and families. Expenses that aid can help cover include tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation.
To determine your financial need and eligibility, you must complete a Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA), which you can find on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Most students qualify for some type of aid. When receiving your financial aid award letter, you can see which type of financial aid you qualified for and the amount.
Reading a financial aid award letter can be tricky when there are terms you don’t recognize. Creating a list of questions you would like to ask financial aid officers before accepting any offers can be beneficial.
Learn more about financial aid options, the process, and must-ask questions.
What Financial Aid Options Are Available?
The two types of financial aid include need-based aid and merit-based aid.
Need-based aid is determined by your estimated family contribution (EFC) and cost of attendance (COA).
Those who show a need for funding will be awarded aid through federal grants, scholarships, federal or private loans, and work-study programs.
Need-based aid is the most common form of aid that students receive.
Merit-based aid is not based on financial need but awarded to students for having a specific talent or an athletic or academic ability.
Certain circumstances may even help you receive aid and resources from the federal government through the following programs:
- Aid for military families
- Aid for international study
- Education awards for community service with AmeriCorps
- Educational and training vouchers for current and former foster care youth
- The department of health and human services’ Indian Health Service
- National Institutes of Health
- National Health Service Corps
How Does the Financial Aid Process Work?
The first step in the financial aid process is applying early. The earlier you apply, the better your chances of receiving the maximum aid.
Once you have completed your FAFSA, you will receive a financial aid award letter. A financial aid award letter will outline the types and amounts of aid a college is offering you.
If you have applied to multiple colleges, you will want to compare the costs and your offers before accepting any.
Once you have decided on a college and offer, you must go to the school’s website, log in using your student identification number, and accept the offer.
Not all schools prefer this method. If you have to send in your signed financial aid forms, you will want to do this as soon as possible to guarantee they reach their destination before the deadline.
11 Questions Parents Should Ask Financial Aid Officers?
With all the confusion wrapped around the various types of financial aid and how the process works, parents may feel overwhelmed and confused.
Creating a list of questions is great to help you understand what your child is being offered and what they are accepting.
We have created a list of some of the most commonly asked questions by parents to help you find the answers you and your child need.
1. When should my child apply for financial aid?
You can submit financial aid forms as early as October 1st of the year before you will be attending college. The deadline for submitting your FAFSA is June 30th.
To receive the highest amount of aid, it is always better to apply as soon as possible.
2. When will we receive a financial aid award letter?
Most financial aid award letters will come around the same time as college acceptance letters.
You will want to look out for your letter around March and April for your financial aid award letter.
3. What happens if my financial circumstances change?
Many schools will allow you and your family to appeal for more money if your circumstances have changed, and you can prove this.
4. What is the appeal process if we don’t get enough financial aid?
You will want to contact the school’s financial aid department, print out your documentation or proof, and write and submit an appeal letter.
5. What are the reasons for a financial aid appeal?
Reasons to appeal may include:
- A parent losing a job
- Reduction of income
- The death of a parent
- An unexpected medical expense
- Divorce or separation
- Damage due to natural disaster
6. Is there more financial aid available?
Often, fewer students enroll in a school than what was expected. When this happens, the school may have additional funds to disperse. It never hurts to ask if more aid is available.
7. How can I reduce my child’s loan debt?
When you receive a loan for the maximum amount, it may be tempting to borrow all of it, but the smartest thing to do would be only to accept what is needed.
Your child can also apply for more scholarships and participate in a work-study program to decrease their debt.
8. Are there scholarships my child could apply for?
A financial aid advisor may provide you with a list of scholarships and grants based on your child’s major and grade point average. Before you call and ask, create a list of talents, test scores, and achievements. This can help an advisor find the best opportunities for your child.
9. Can you match a financial aid offer from another school?
Colleges can get competitive when they want a student to enroll in their school, especially if that student is athletic, has a high GPA, or has another specific talent or achievement.
10. Do you front-load your financial aid offer?
Some colleges will lure students in with a generous financial aid package the first year, only to reduce that amount the following years. If you aren’t prepared for this, it can be stressful.
11. How much debt do most students leave with?
Most students will leave college with at least some debt. You can see which schools are more affordable by looking at the debt previously enrolled students are leaving with. Schools where students have a high amount of debt when they leave are generally more expensive schools to attend.
Knowing what to expect when your child graduates can help them prepare for their future and help them recognize how they will need to handle their finances.
Final Thoughts on Financial Aid
Finding a college to attend and deciding on how you will pay for it can be challenging and stressful.
It is normal to feel uneasy about the unknown and to have a list of questions you would like answered.
Professionals are ready and willing to help you get answers to those questions and steer you in the right direction.
Reach out to a college planning specialist when you are ready to receive support and make informed decisions with your college-bound student.