A pattern I have noticed from families over the past several years is an overall fear of the financial aid process. It doesn’t seem to matter what background or part of the country a family is from, so know that you’re not alone! But with that fear comes a lack of understanding of how and when to contact a college’s Financial Aid Office.
Instead of avoiding these (tools and resources available just for you) like the plague, I will help you bust some myths and lay some guidelines to follow if you want more specific information about financial aid, but are not sure where to turn.
First, don’t assume that you know everything about the financial aid process, as it tends to change every couple years anyway. Here are some common MYTHS:
Myth: Our family makes too much money and we couldn’t possibly qualify for financial aid, so we shouldn’t apply.
- Every college’s process, and funding, is different and can also vary year-to-year (as can your household income!). Financial aid offers are also unique to your student, so don’t base your judgment on what a friend, or even sibling, received in the past. I’ve talked before about understanding the Cost of Attendance for a college, and a family’s EFC. It’s also important to know the percentage of Need met, how the college awards aid, and if simply applying could also meet your requirements for state aid. All answers you can find with a simple phone call to the financial aid office, or a little online research!
Myth: We submitted the FAFSA, so we’re all set for financial aid forever!
- The FAFSA is actually required every year. And again, every college’s process is different, so don’t assume that you’re done yet. Some colleges have several requirements that must be met before they will process a student’s financial aid. Every college also has the right to request additional documents from you to verify information you submitted on the FAFSA. These are good questions to get answered from the college’s financial aid website, rather than calling in. You can check the DEADLINES for each form there, too.
Myth: These fees listed on my bill don’t apply to me so I don’t have to pay it.
- Cost of Attendance (including room, board, and other educational fees), along with the financial aid award, is tailored just for your student alone based on all their applications and preferences. Any discrepancies SHOULD be discussed with the financial aid office, because that “Out-of-pocket” expense line is no joke – you’re actually expected to pay up!
More importantly, don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Always contact a financial aid counselor when you need answers, but here are some guidelines for MUST-do’s when calling the financial aid office:
- Respect their time.
- The financial aid busy season runs from October through March, so don’t be surprised if you experience delays in response during these months. If you submit documents, plan on at least 2 weeks of processing time before you follow up.
- Check the website first.
- Many answers to your questions, including forms, deadlines, and even FAFSA-counseling events are listed right on the website, so you can avoid waiting on hold for 20 minutes to get quick information.
- Ask questions about your financial aid award.
- Financial aid counselors are trained and knowledgeable about the financial aid process, and exactly how their college awards aid. They can get you answers about what you see on your award letter. Don’t sit wondering, confused, and end up frustrated, or worse – accepting awards you don’t fully understand.
- Set up a meeting to go over your payment options.
- Once the tuition bills are sent out, many families struggle with how they will meet those tuition payments by the deadline. Keep your financial aid counselor in the loop! Ask them to present payment options, or work with your family to find the best solutions that fit your financial situation.
Remember that financial aid counselors are people too, like you and me. And what’s even better is that it’s also their job to help students succeed at (and pay for) college! If you are a College Dream Builder client, we also have professionals ready and available to answer your questions about financial aid, or how to best pay for college costs.