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How To Get Your College’s Most Generous Financial Aid | Best colleges

Great consideration in choosing a University, at least for most people, is the brutal blow the bills will take to a family’s finances. By following a smart strategy when applying for financial aid, you may come across some pleasant surprises – like an offer from that expensive private college to top your wishlist so generous that the school ends up being more of a bargain. than the local state university. .

Your first step in tapping Uncle Sam’s rich resources is to complete the Free Federal Student Aid Application – better known as FAFSA – as soon as possible. The deadline for the 2019-2020 school year is June 30, but you can submit the form as of October 1 of the terminal. Colleges also use the form to allocate their own money, and each school you apply to may have a different deadline, so it’s important to make sure you’re on top of the key dates.

The FAFSA analyzes your family’s financial data and comes up with an amount it determines you can afford to pay. But multiple factors will come into play as schools assemble their aid packages and offer letters.

First of all, it helps to know if they are “aware of the need” or “blind to the need”. Admissions officers at blind-to-need colleges do not have access to applicants’ financial data, which means they make admissions decisions entirely based on a student’s education and other credentials. On the other hand, schools that are aware of the need may take into account the need for a family for financial assistance to weigh applicants.

“Among the many things our admissions office takes into consideration when determining a student’s eligibility is how much that student would cost us,” says Sean Martin, director of financial aid services at College of Connecticut.

Part of the reason is that the school is also committed to meeting any demonstrated needs of each student, which means the gap between what the FAFSA form says is your expected family contribution and the total cost of participation.

Not all schools do. Many resort to “gapping”, which means that they are offering a package that does not fully meet the needs of certain candidates, perhaps those who are not at their top level. Other colleges sometimes “admit-deny”, which means they are happy to accept a qualified candidate but come close to offering enough money.

Still, students who need financial aid shouldn’t assume it will work against them, Martin says. “They can bring other things to the table that outweigh the cost,” like geographic diversity, an academic strength in a particular subject or a strong interest in music or political action, for example. A good tactic is to apply to at least some colleges where you beat the average performance of previously admitted students on typical metrics such as grade point average and standardized test scores.

Once students are admitted, universities get to work to prepare together what is usually a mix of federal grants, loans and scholarships from the school itself based not on need but on academic merit or talent. specials. Some students will also receive work-study jobs as part of their federal package.

A growing number of schools are moving towards loan-less packages, which means they offer private grants instead of federal loans. About 50 schools follow this practice for low-income families, and 16 have extended it to all families, including Brunette college, Princeton University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Many colleges will expect you to complete an additional form known as a CSS profile. The form, which you fill out on the College Board website, is much more detailed than the FAFSA form, collecting data on the amount of your family’s equity in your home, for example, and the income of a family member. family-owned business. If the student’s parents are divorced or separated, financial information on both may be needed – and on new spouses, if applicable.

Compare apples to apples. Once you have the offers in hand, go through them carefully. While the end results may be equivalent, one package may be more heavily loan oriented than another; colleges are often more generous in giving scholarships to the students they really want.

Cindy Deffenbaugh, Assistant Vice-President and Director of Financial Aid at the University of Richmond in Virginia, recalls a conversation with parents who pulled out a letter of offer from college they thought was much more generous than Richmond. “The dollar value seemed higher than our bid,” Deffenbaugh said. But the competing offer included a Parent PLUS loan, an optional loan offered by the federal government.

She explained that Richmond provides information on Parent PLUS loans but does not count the potential value of the package. To “compare apples to apples, take the cost of each school and subtract the grants and scholarships,” Deffenbaugh explains. “What’s left is how much you will pay out of pocket”, which may or may not include ready.

It is also important to consider how your burden will change over the following years. Some scholarships and grants will automatically renew, while others may be one-time awards or require the student to maintain a certain GPA. If these details are not in the letter of offer, be sure to seek clarification from the financial aid office.

Factor tuition fees. You’ll also want to be prepared for any changes in tuition fees in years two, three, and four.

“Some schools will tell you that the tuition fee will remain the same for the four years, but they may still increase their fees” for using science labs or counseling centers, for example, notes Robert Durkle, associate vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid to the University of Dayton in Ohio.

Dayton is one of many colleges with a so-called fixed price tuition plan promising accepted students that their net tuition fees will remain stable for four years. Scholarships and grants will increase to offset any increase in tuition fees. The school does not charge a fee, he adds, and it offers up to $ 500 per semester for textbooks to families who file the FAFSA.

Student loans in Dayton for the class of 2017, which cost tuition at $ 41,750, fell 22% from 2013 when the fixed price policy was enacted. The average total debt is $ 18,000, which is significantly lower than the national average of $ 30,000. Other colleges with fixed price plans include Ohio University and George Washington University in the District of Columbia.

Another good way to reduce your loan burden is to apply for private scholarships. The amounts may seem small, and many of them are one-time rewards, which may cause your school to adjust your package downward accordingly. But most colleges use external scholarships to offset what they would otherwise offer in loans or student funding.

“Start early, in your first or second year,” advises Shivraj “Sunny” Sandhu, a junior at Princeton who has amassed $ 600,000 in scholarships and needed no financial assistance. He started by downloading Scholly, a smartphone app that matches students with scholarships based on their GPA, hometown, and unique demographics. “The app streamlined all the scholarships that were applicable to me and gave me the due dates,” Sandhu said.

He applied to over 25 and got money from organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola, and Burger King. After applying for a small scholarship from his local Elks club in Wilson, North Carolina, he entered a nationwide competition that grossed him $ 40,000. He also landed $ 25,000 at Foot Locker, which he qualified for by playing on his high school soccer and tennis teams. “It takes a lot of research time, but it’s worth it,” says Sandhu.

Understand the art of the transaction. If an offer comes in that is much better than the one made by your dream college, is it okay to negotiate? Under the right circumstances, most schools are likely to be open to a appeal – for example, if your financial situation has changed since you submitted the FAFSA.

Divorce, unexpected medical bills, natural disasters – such circumstances can resonate with financial aid officers, says Brooke Fincke, director of the college council at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall, a private high school in Waltham, Massachusetts. Fincke recommends that you create a spreadsheet of all your monthly expenses, not including college fees, and be prepared to include it in your appeal.

Otherwise, experts don’t advise pitting one school against another, unless you are certain that your chosen university will consider appeals from students whose financial circumstances have not changed. Students who bring sought-after skills to the table may come out of negotiations with a better package, but they will need to reveal what the competing school is and how much it offers. Specialized colleges could also be open to negotiations.

“If a competitor offers more money, we ask them to send us this award letter,” says Kathleen Gailor, director of student financial planning at the Culinary Institute of America. “We ask them to write a short essay on what they did to prepare for coming to school here and what will make them successful in the food world.”

If you appeal, make your case with facts and be as kind as possible to financial aid officers, suggests Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank, an online tool designed to help students with the aid process. financial. “Share your story in a compelling but succinct way,” she suggests.

This strategy worked for Javice, who successfully negotiated an increase in his aid program during his three years at the University of Pennsylvania. “There was a lot of back and forth with the financial aid office,” recalls Javice, a 2013 graduate. “But the schools will work with you. They are reluctant, she says, to lose good students once they make the offer.

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