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Just how Colleges Determine Financial Aid Packages

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Part Two: Exactly what questions should I ask about financial aid on my college visits?

describe the image Last week we told you how to begin researching the financial aid practices of colleges you plan to visit. This week, we provide you with questions to inquire an admissions or financial aid counselor that will help clarify your understanding of their procedures. (Note: It’s usually not a good idea to inquire these questions of student tour guides, as they will not be as well informed regarding school financial aid policy. )


Questions for the Admissions Workplace to Understand Financial Aid:

Does your college award value scholarships? If yes, what is the average award? What percentage of the admitted course is offered scholarships, and what is the educational profile (test scores and G. P. A. ) of recipients?

This is one of the most important financial questions you are going to ask on your visit. Every college’s merit scholarship awarding practices differ based on the academic profile of the college students they admit and who they are wanting to attract to their campus. Understanding how your student fits directly into each college’s applicant pool is crucial to estimating how much money s/he might receive. Remember, in case your student is at or near the best of a college’s academic profile, s/he is most likely to receive a generous scholarship from that college.

How will the Innovative Placement, International Baccalaureate or double enrollment classes my student has brought in high school affect our expenses?

A few colleges allow students to transfer in numerous college-level credits taken during high school, which allows them to skip otherwise required lessons. Other colleges may only allow the courses to count as “elective credit, ” or may have rigid limits on how many courses can be viewed as. Still others may not consider them at all. If part of your financing plan is to use these credits in order to shorten the length of time your child is in college, you will want to make sure this is feasible each and every place you visit.


Questions for the Financial Aid Office:

What is the application process for need-based financial aid? Can you meet the full need of all admitted students? If not, for what percentage of incoming students do you meet up with full need? Are there any factors that you consider that differ from the standard FAFSA formula?

There are very few colleges that meet the full need of all admitted applicants. For those that don’t, your student’s placement in the academic profile of the incoming class may affect how much need-based aid s/he is offered. Students that are at the top of a college’s profile are likely to have their full financial need met.

Colleges including the College Scholarship Service (CSS) User profile as part of their financial aid application will conduct a more thorough review of your money than schools that do not gather it. Ask them if and how they will consider home equity in the formulation, if they treat 529 Plans (if you have them) differently from the federal government rules, and if there are any other school specific things that they can share with you.

How much do your costs increase each year? Are you experiencing any guaranteed cost programs offered to freeze or limit tuition improves?

In an effort to help families plan for future expenses, some colleges have implemented college tuition freezes, which guarantee that college tuition will stay at or near the level it was when the student entered. If they do, ask them how a student authorize, maintains eligibility, and how many semesters it lasts.. If a college does not offer one of these guarantees, you should inquire if scholarships and grants are adjusted because tuition increases.

Is there any variability in your cost structure? Are there ways to keep costs down by moving off-campus or modifying meal plans?

Some residential colleges limit how many students are allowed to live away from campus each year, so don’t suppose your student can move away from campus to save money. Depending on the leasing market in some college towns, it might not be cheaper to live off campus anyway. If your student doesn’t consume 21 meals per week, there may be a way to save money on the board options offered at a college.   This is useful to know ahead of time as you plan your upcoming expenditures.

Finally, just as your student is having notes on his/her impressions of every college, so too should you take information on the answers to these and every other financial questions you have. Using the info you have each gathered, you and your pupil can construct a college listing that is a good fit both academically and financially. Safe travels!



Kathy Ruby is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance professionals . Before signing up for College Coach, Kathy was being a Senior Financial Aid Officer at St . Olaf College and Shippensburg University of Pa .

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