With the new year beginning, financial aid application season is upon us and will soon be in full swing. In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing a series of blog posts about the basics of financial aid . The goal is to provide a primer that will help readers sort through the complexities of the often mysterious and confusing world of financial aid.
Whose responsibility is it to pay for college?
Even though our country benefits dramatically from having a more educated population, the federal government’s philosophy is that parents have the main obligation to fund their children’s higher education to the extent that they can.
Students themselves are also expected to contribute what they can, providing a percentage of their savings and possibly taking on debt and/or working to fund their college education. After all, students are the ones who are most directly benefiting from their time at school.
But, what if parents and students together can’t afford to pay for the cost of a college education? This is where the federal government steps in and tries to help fill the gap. The federal government provides aid in the form of grants, loans and work-study (employment). Based on information that you provide, financial aid offices at colleges and universities are given the responsibility of determining what your need is. They calculate what you will pay, as well as how much federal financial aid you should receive and in what form you will receive it (grants, loans, work-study, etc.).
Colleges and universities themselves also can award additional merit and need-based scholarship money above and beyond the need-based aid that the federal government funds. Each institution differs on their criteria for awarding institutional money, but in some cases, if a school really wants a student, grants can be quite sizable.
The road to financial aid begins with filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA requires fairly basic family and financial information from the prior two years. While on the surface this sounds simple, to complete the FAFSA in a timely way – January of the college enrollment year — families must often project their tax situation from the just-ended year. This can make life a bit more complex! I will get much more into detail about the FAFSA in a future blog post about financial aid and will address some of these issues.
As you go forward learning about financial aid, you may feel overwhelmed or encounter some things that will deter you from applying for aid. Don’t let this happen! Did you know that over 80% of admissions applicants apply for financial aid? College is an expensive proposition for just about anyone. Even though paying for college is a parental responsibility, the government and institutions of higher learning want to help. You should take full advantage of the financial aid opportunity despite the hurdles you may encounter.