Top Financial Aid Questions to AskOctober 5, 2021
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.
In 2021, 86% of college students received financial aid of some sort. 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 financial aid is available?
Does the school provide merit scholarships or just need-based aid? Are there 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 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, such as the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile. Many private universities require this profile to be eligible for aid from the school. Determine which applications you must fill out so there is no delay 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 process and receiving the money, 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. At some no-loan colleges, students can graduate with little or no debt. At other schools, students may be saddled with thousands in debt after graduation. Doing your research can help you be prepared either way.
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 the scholarship is lost. Others may provide grants for the first year of school that may not be guaranteed each year. Getting the full details of the financial aid package will help you know whether it will work for your finances.
6. What options are available if I don’t receive enough aid?
Not receiving as much aid as you need can lead to many 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.
7. What is the actual cost of attendance?
Although the cost of attendance is published on a school’s website, check that it factors in all the 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 have you worried about money by the end of the semester.
8. How do private scholarships affect financial aid?
Some schools may reduce your financial aid package by the amount of the scholarship received, thereby offering less aid. Others may use it to cover the difference between the aid offered and the cost of attendance, which would require you to pay less. It’s an important distinction to make so you know how much money you can budget with.
9. When will I receive information about my financial aid?
When you are accepted into a school, you can expect to receive a financial aid award letter around the same time as your acceptance letter or around April or May. The letter will show how much aid you can receive and the cost you would be responsible for paying.
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 distributed to you. Funds from student loans may be distributed once at the beginning of each 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.
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 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.