Top Financial Aid Questions to AskOctober 5, 2021
Updated July 11, 2022
One of the deciding factors you may consider when choosing a college or graduate school is how much financial aid you can receive. Receiving financial aid lowers the portion of expenses you are responsible for paying.
If a school is not affordable, choosing it can cause financial stress when it comes time to pay tuition. It is essential to know the right financial aid questions to ask to make an informed decision.
During the 2020-2021 school year, undergraduate and graduate students received a total of $234.9 billion in financial aid from a variety of programs. When considering a school, it’s beneficial to get a complete picture of the financial investment required so you aren’t surprised by expenses later. Reach out to the school’s office of financial aid for answers to questions like these:
1. What types of financial aid are available?
Does the school provide merit scholarships or just need-based aid? Does the school offer work-study opportunities? You can pursue many different types of aid, whether directly from your school, the federal government, or private scholarships. Explore all your options to maximize your chances of receiving the amount you need.
2. What are the important financial aid dates?
Applying by the deadline is crucial to be eligible for aid. In some cases, the earlier you apply, the better chance you may have of earning aid.
When it comes to the FAFSA, the earlier you apply, the better. So be sure to note when you can begin applying and when is the last day to apply. Missing the deadline could cause you to miss out on potential funding, which makes this one of the top financial aid questions to ask.
3. Are any additional forms necessary outside of the FAFSA?
Completing the FAFSA is usually the first step when applying for aid for both college and graduate school. Sometimes, however, additional applications are required. One such example is the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile, which some schools require for certain types of institutional aid.
Determine which applications you must fill out so there is no delay in processing your application because of a missing form.
4. What is the average debt of a graduate?
Many financial aid questions focus on the application and disbursement process, but it’s also helpful to ask about debt. Knowing the average debt of a graduate at the school can help you determine how much outside financial aid you may need, so you can plan ahead to avoid taking on debt if possible.
At some no-loan colleges, students can graduate with little or no debt. At other schools, students may graduate with significant student loan debt. Researching ahead of time and applying for the financial aid you need to bridge any cost gaps can help minimize your need for loans.
5. Am I guaranteed the same financial aid package for the duration of school?
Some financial aid packages may have contingencies to maintain a certain GPA, or to meet similar qualifications. Others may provide grants for the first year of school that aren’t guaranteed in the following years. Getting the full details of the financial aid package will help you prepare ahead of time to ensure you can continue to receive it over time or make other arrangements to cover the costs.
6. What options are available if I don’t receive enough aid?
Not receiving as much aid as you need can lead to even more financial aid questions. Can you appeal the decision or pursue other opportunities like work-study to make up the difference? Sometimes additional documentation may be necessary to help get the aid you need. Learning about the process at the outset can help ease the stress if you are faced with this issue later.
Learn More: How to Get More Financial Aid
7. What is the actual cost of attendance?
Although the cost of attendance is likely posted on your school’s website, check that the listed cost factors in non-academic expenses like housing and food. It also helps to ask if the cost is updated and an accurate depiction of what students pay. Budgeting with an unrealistic cost of attendance could mean miscalculating the true amount of aid you need.
8. How do private scholarships affect financial aid?
Some schools may reduce your original financial aid package by the amount of private scholarships received. Others may use private scholarships to cover the difference between the financial aid offered and the cost of attendance. Understanding how private scholarships affect your financial aid is an important question to ask, and asking early can help you ensure you have the appropriate amount of aid for the semester.
9. When will I receive information about my financial aid?
When your financial aid award letter arrives may vary by school. The important thing to keep in mind is that you won’t be eligible for federal financial aid until you’ve submitted your FAFSA application and been accepted for enrollment into college. Once you’ve completed the necessary steps to be eligible for financial aid, the college will use the information you’ve provided to craft a financial aid award letter for you.
10. How is the money distributed?
Although there are many important questions to ask about financial aid, one of the most important is when you can expect to receive the funds.
The type of aid you receive determines how and when the money is disbursed to you. Institutional and federal financial aid disbursement dates vary by school but often take place just before the beginning of the semester. Grant funds may be distributed at the beginning and middle of the semester. Work-study aid will be received as a paycheck since you work a job for the funds.
Be sure to ask when you can expect to receive your financial aid, so you can plan ahead to save and pay necessary costs as needed.
Important tip: Pay attention to when you will be receiving funds. You do not want to use all your funds before the end of the semester, expecting to receive another distribution that isn’t coming for a few months.
Navigating the financial aid process for college or graduate school can seem daunting, but knowing the right financial aid questions to ask can help make the process easier.