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By Elizabeth LaScala

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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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College Admissons: Apply Early to Secure the Best Financial Aid Package

Uploaded: Jan 23, 2012
Dr. LaScala,

We read your column all the time on Tuesdays and find your advice helpful. Can you give us some guidance about financial aid? We hear that it may not be worth the time and trouble. What's your opinion? Our daughter just finished submitting her last college applications this week.

Cindy

Hi Cindy,

Financial aid should never be an afterthought. Unless you can write a check today for the full cost of your daughter's college education, you should apply for financial aid. In my practice I routinely see students awarded generous financial need and merit aid packages from colleges.

Don't underestimate your opportunities. Use a net cost calculator located on each college's website to get an idea of the aid you could receive. If you do not qualify for need-based aid, you should apply for merit aid. Find out what each college requires in order to ensure your student is considered for merit awards and scholarships. Take nothing for granted. You do not need to be a straight "A" student to qualify for merit aid. There is money out there, but you must fill all the necessary forms on time and completely to receive the most aid possible.

First let's get straight on some definitions and then go over the major forms you must complete. Financial aid is any grant, scholarship, loan, or paid employment offered to help you meet college expenses. Financial aid is provided by various sources such as federal and state agencies, colleges, foundations and corporations. Grants are funds that are not repaid; loans must be repaid. Student loan interest rates and repayment terms vary by program. Employment (work-study) is based on an hourly rate for work performed. A Financial Aid Package is a combination of different types of aid combined to meet your financial need.

It is important to know the forms required and financial aid deadlines at each college. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The federal government uses it to determine eligibility for financial aid (including grants, scholarships, work-study, loans, etc.). All colleges require this form, and it is best to file the FAFSA online. Always use the official FAFSA website; the form and filing are free at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

File your FAFSA in January or February. Parents and students should try to complete their income taxes and file a FAFSA no later than February 1. If this is impossible, don't wait. Use estimated income to complete the FAFSA. You will need to update these estimates with actual income once your tax returns are completed .
Do not wait until you receive responses regarding admission. All available aid may be gone. "Financial Aid Award Letters" are only sent to admitted students.

Be sure to save a copy of your FAFSA. After you submit it, you will be given a confirmation number. Save this as well. Watch for your SAR (Student Aid Report) to arrive later. Review the SAR and make corrections and updates if needed.

CSS (College Scholarship Service) PROFILE is a financial aid form that approximately 250 colleges require. The PROFILE asks additional questions in order to get a more detailed picture of family finances. A list of CSS PROFILE member colleges can be found at https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/prf/index.jsp. There is a charge to file the CSS PROFILE, but fee waivers are available for students who have demonstrated need. Students register online for the PROFILE service, then a customized PROFILE form is completed online and submitted to a central processor. The financial information is then sent to colleges listed in your account. Register for PROFILE online at www.collegeboard.com as soon as you know what schools you will apply to. After registering for PROFILE, you will receive a personalized PROFILE form to submit online, usually by February 1st.

Don't hesitate to call the financial aid offices at colleges to ask questions. Some colleges require additional forms. It is your responsibility to consult each college's instructions to verify the forms required and deadlines.

Remember that you must reapply for financial aid each year. As you become more acquainted with the process, you will be better able to take advantage of the aid that is available.

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Visit www.doingcollege.com; Call (925) 891-4491 or email at elizabeth@doingcollege.com

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