out financial aid awards
After filling out
forms, writing essays and enduring the long wait for that much-sought-after
admissions letter, it's finally happened. Your son or daughter has
made it into his or her dream college. Go ahead and celebrate, enjoy
the moment -- you've earned it.
Now comes the really hard
part -- paying the bill. Even as you and your teen are doing a victory
dance around the acceptance letter, another piece of mail from the
university is headed your way -- the all-important financial aid
Many American families will
need help paying that college tuition bill. A financial aid award
is a crucial element.
The total package
In a financial aid package, a college or university will try to
make up the difference between the cost of attending its school
and a family's expected contribution as determined by the federal
government. A family's expected contribution is calculated from
information submitted on a Free Application for Federal Student
Aid. Experts urge families to file FAFSA
forms in early January.
A financial aid award determines
just how much your family is going to pay for the privilege of sending
your son or daughter to a specific college or university.
Aid packages vary. Much depends
on a student's academic record, a family's financial need and how
much aid is available from a school. Private schools tend to have
deeper pockets than state schools. They also tend to cost more.
Some schools send out acceptance
and aid notifications on the same day. So the euphoria over getting
into your dream school may be short-lived as you and your family
delve into the number-crunching part.
Keys to keep in mind
The first thing to consider is how much of the financial aid award
is from grants and scholarships and how much is from loans. Check
out all the details.
Is the grant renewable? Is
the scholarship contingent on maintaining a certain grade point
average? Does a separate application need to be filed for the loan?
Another key thing to scrutinize
is the cost-of-attendance estimate listed by the college or university.
Does this figure cover all student expenses for a full nine months?
Some schools include indirect college costs, such as transportation
and living expenses in a cost-of-attendance estimate. Others don't.
Some schools stick to tuition, books and room and board.
"If they are confused
about anything, they shouldn't hesitate to call or e-mail,"
says Benny Walker, vice president for enrollment at Furman University
in Greenville, S.C.
Several Web sites, including
offer tips for maneuvering through the financial aid process. Detailed
information on loans and a calculator for comparing award letters
are available on wiredscholar,
Sallie Mae's planning for college Web site. The College
Board site boasts numerous calculators, worksheets and online
Be sure to check a university's
Web site as well. You may find the answer you're looking for in
the financial aid section.
A simple question may be
answered with a quick phone call to the school, but not always.
At larger schools you may have a tough time getting through. Be
as specific as possible in any voice mail messages. And be patient.
Phone tag is common.
Requests to modify a financial aid award because of a change in
a family's financial situation or a student's academic standing
should be put in writing. Most schools respond to these requests
"When appeals come in,
we usually turn them around in 48 hours," says Furman University's
Also realize that you don't
have to accept all aspects of a financial aid package. For example,
your teen may want to decline a loan in favor of joining a work-study
program. But be prepared to stick with this decision. That loan
money will likely go to another student and you won't be able to
get it back.
-- Updated: March 10, 2004