A successful call to your preferred college’s financial aid office is all about asking very specific questions.
For instance, before you call, you don’t know if they weigh New York City income differently than Omaha income.
While you will never get the answer to how much aid your student will receive beforehand, you will be able to find out if there are extra scholarships that they can apply to or what makes your student a good financial fit for their school.
Here are some of the most important questions to ask financial aid officers as you contemplate which school works best for you.
1. How Much Financial Aid Can I Get?
Find out how much financial aid is available to students. You should also ask how much the financial aid covers, including finding out if:
- There are need-based and merit-based options and what percent of students receive each type of financial aid
- You can get a merit scholarship and need based financial aid at the same time
- Any students receive full ride or full tuition scholarships
- The financial aid is front-loaded so more is offered to freshmen
- You can apply for more financial aid later if your circumstances change
It’s important to have a good idea, going in, what to expect in terms of total coverage.
2. What Applications Should I Fill Out?
Ask financial aid officers what applications they need. Some of the most common financial aid applications include:
In many cases, especially for need-based financial aid, schools expect you to fill out the FAFSA. You should fill out the FAFSA in any case, just to make sure you have access to all the federal financial options, including student loans, available to you.
Find out if you have to fill out separate applications for merit-based aid, and check with the financial aid office to confirm the deadlines for all applications if you’re looking for financial aid. Deadlines for financial aid may be different than deadlines for admissions AND deadlines for merit aid may be different than other deadlines as well.
3. What Options Do I Have for Paying for School?
In addition to finding out about financial aid, some of the questions to ask financial aid officers include those about options for paying for school. Find out:
- What percentage of students receive financial aid
- The average amount of college debt students graduate with
- If there is a tuition payment plan, and what fees are charged to make installment payments
- What happens to the school’s financial package if you have an outside scholarship – so private scholarships displace need based financial aid
- If the school participates in Federal Work Study, how many students have found work study jobs and what hours students can expect to get as part of the program
- Whether applying for Early Action or Early Decision will impact the financial aid package
- If it’s possible to obtain in-state tuition by meeting residency requirements
Sometimes deciding what financial aid package to accept depends on different factors. Consider all the options you have to pay for school and see which package combines what you need with a certain degree of flexibility.
4. Does Financial Aid Stay The Same and How Do I Maintain My Merit Scholarships?
Once the school has offered you a financial aid package, it’s important to make sure you understand the terms and conditions involved with maintaining your aid. Which aid is being offer based on your family’s financial need and which aid is based on the student’s merit.
Unfortunately, students are not likely to receive the same amount of need based financial aid every year. This can be a good thing or a bad thing but too often is a bad thing.
Students must apply for financial aid each year and any changes in their families’ circumstances can affect their EFC and the amount of money awarded.
For merit scholarships, it’s important to find out if there are requirements to maintain a certain GPA, re-apply for aid each year, and if there are other circumstances you need to meet.
5. What Does The Net Cost Include?
It can be difficult to figure out exactly what a school includes in their net cost estimate.
This is your time for digging in on the details.
Was the net cost to parents after student loans or work study? What meal plan was included? What kind of scholarships are included?
Before you do anything else, you should makes sure there isn’t a single category that you do not understand.
6. Does The College Consider Regional Cost Of Living Differences?
Especially with schools that use the CSS profile, they may take into account whether your cost of living is higher than another area of the United States.
Taking cost of living into account can help with both comparing incomes and home equity among students.
Thus, make you sure you ask whether cost of living adjustments are made solely on income or if assets are considered as well.
7. How Do Private Scholarships Affect Financial Aid Awards?
Whether a school counts private scholarships you’ve earned against student loans or scholarships from the college varies from school to school.
The difference can mean thousands to how much you’d have to borrow for school.
For instance, let’s say two schools offer you $10,000 in scholarships and grants.
And, you receive a $5,000 private scholarship.
One school deducts the $5,000 you receive from the scholarships and grants offered, so in essence, that school now only offered you $5,000.
The other school deducts the scholarship from the amount you were offered in student loans.
As long the cost of attendance isn’t $5,000 more, your student will go into less debt if choosing the second school.
8. Are There Additional Scholarships Available For Your Major or Talent?
Whenever your student is talking with a representative from the college, you always want to ask about scholarships for a major or talent that may not be represented in a net price calculator.
Since the school only offers money based on what they know about the student, being able to talk about talents, etc. either in the application or by phone can open up new scholarship possibilities.
9. How Does The College Expect Their Budget For Grants and Scholarships to Differ From The Year Used in Their Net Price Calculator?
The amount a school has to give can vary widely from year to year.
They may not always know if more money might come from additional fundraising, but it’s always a good idea to ask.
Also, ask if there are students who may be affected more than others.
For instance, if there’s a decrease in funding, is merit aid or financial need- based aid affected more?
10. How Do I Ask For More Financial Aid?
Maybe there’s a school you like, but you’re not happy about the financial aid package. In that case, you need to know how to ask a college for more financial aid. Here are some tips that can help you potentially appeal and boost your financial aid offer:
- Send an email so there’s a written record
- If you call for a more personal touch, follow up with an email
- Mention the school is your first choice, but you’re trying to balance that with financial realities
- Share information that might sway the financial aid office, especially if there are circumstances that illustrate the difference between your EFC and what your family can actually pay
- Use offers from comparable schools as leverage
- Send the request after you receive the financial aid package but before you send a deposit to the school
You can also find out if there’s additional money available once you’re no longer a freshman, and ask about additional opportunities.
By knowing which questions to ask financial aid officers, you’re more likely to get a clear picture of which school is going to give you the best deal. You might not be able to go to your first choice school, but with the right approach, you can still get a good education without breaking the bank.
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by Miranda Marquit, who has been covering personal finance for more than 10 years, including aspects of college planning and student loans. She is a recognized money expert and has contributed to numerous media outlets, including Forbes, Marketwatch, NPR, USA Today, Investopedia, and U.S. News & World Report. She lives in Idaho with her teenage son — who she’s just starting to guide through the college selection and admissions process.