October marks the start of the financial aid calendar, as the FAFSA and CSS Profile become available for students and parents to complete and file. At Strive to Learn, we know that paying for college is a big deal; we also know that most families have questions about how financial aid works and how to get it. That’s why we’re giving the students and parents in our community an early Christmas present this year: a free two-part webinar series on the fundamentals of financial aid and affording college. We were very fortunate to have certified educational planner Katelyn Klapper deliver a highly informative presentation earlier this month, and we will be welcoming another exciting guest speaker for part two in early November.
Since we know that some of you may have specific questions about financial aid but don’t have time to watch the full webinar, I want to highlight a few clips from Ms. Klapper’s presentation that address some of the most common questions we hear from the families we work with. Here are five key points from the webinar that can help ease the burden of paying for college - for your convenience, we'll link the webinar below for you to follow along!
Click the image below to watch the first installment in our two-part financial aid series!
The college search and list-building process should include affordability planning.
In other words, when researching colleges to make your list of schools to apply to, it’s wise to consider whether a particular college will be affordable for you and your family. This is described as “financial fit” and for families who are depending on outside help to be able to pay for college, it should be given as much weight as a school’s academic fit and personal fit. After all, as Ms. Klapper alludes to in her presentation, 90% of merit scholarships earned by students come directly from the colleges and universities themselves, with only 10% derived from outside sources. If you are counting on merit scholarships to be able to afford college, make it a priority to apply to schools that are more likely to award you merit aid.
Every student applying to college should fill out the FAFSA, with no exceptions.
But wait, my family makes too much money and there’s no way I’m getting financial aid- isn’t the FAFSA a waste of time? No, because the FAFSA is used at federal, state, and institutional levels. If you want to qualify for state scholarships, such as the Middle Class Scholarship or Cal Grant in California, you need to submit the FAFSA (by the way, state scholarships for California residents are discussed in the Q&A portion of the webinar, from 47:00-49:35). If you or your parents want to qualify for loans, you need to submit the FAFSA. If the worst case scenario becomes reality and your family’s financial situation takes a downturn, you can reach out to specific colleges to appeal for more financial aid - but not without a completed FAFSA on file. As Ms. Klapper states, think of it as your insurance policy.
When determining how much a student’s family can afford to contribute to college expenses, colleges and universities consider three financial factors.
Colleges and universities use the information on a student’s FAFSA to determine the Expected Family Contribution (also known as EFC Score). Each school has a slightly different system for calculating this figure, but the same three factors are used in all cases: the family’s ability to borrow, current income and assets, and savings accounts. It’s important to note that both parent and student assets are taken into account, so students with college savings accounts will be expected to contribute a percentage of those funds.
More enlightening details about how colleges and universities calculate a given family’s ability to pay for college can be found in the webinar from 18:00-27:30.
It’s possible to estimate how much need-based and/or merit-based aid a student might receive from a particular college before even applying to that school.
As Ms. Klapper describes in the webinar, there is a free resource, available to all who are willing to take the time to use it, that can estimate how much a specific college or university might cost for a given student: the Net Price Calculator (NPC). By inputting some of the same information shared on the FAFSA and college applications (family income and assets, GPA, SAT/ACT scores, etc.), a student’s family can use NPCs to be better informed on how affordable each school might be before submitting a single application.
Where do I find NPCs? Does every college and university have one? Ms. Klapper touches on these questions and more at 35:14-40:15.
Outside scholarships can help make college more affordable, but they can’t always be “stacked” with other forms of financial aid
Aside from need-based and merit-based aid offered by the federal and state governments and individual schools, outside scholarships from a wide range of private donors are available to cover the costs of attending college. However, there are limits to how effective outside scholarships can be because they need to be reported to the financial aid office of any school a student is considering attending. As a result, those private scholarships will often be deducted from the overall award package offered by a particular school. Policies for combining outside scholarships with institutional award packages vary in each case, so it’s best to visit each school’s website to find out its approach.
The webinar addresses the relative value of outside scholarships from 41:43-42:40.
While these five observations really stood out to me during Ms. Klapper’s presentation, there is a wealth of helpful information shared in the webinar, and I highly encourage you to watch the full presentation and Q&A if you have not already done so. If you have any additional questions about financial aid or paying for college that you would like addressed during the second installment of this series, please feel free to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you for part two!