Affordability is one of, if not the most important factor in choosing a school to attend. Applying for financial aid is a necessity for most students. Below is a brief, surface overview of the financial aid process. There are many excellent websites that go into great detail; this is meant as a jumping off point. The FAFSA site is excellent and full of great information. College financial aid offices are fantastic as well. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to one. They’re a great resource and truly want to help families through the process.
Below is a good overview of the financial aid process, but this comprehensive guide from the Wall Street Journal is excellent. It provides a wealth of information in a highly readable format.
Financial Aid Process
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is where the process starts. This application must be completed in order to qualify for financial aid. Both the student and a parent need to create an FSA ID in order to begin the FAFSA. The application goes live on October 1st of the student’s senior year and is based on the earnings of the previous calendar year. It’s strongly recommended that you file the FAFSA in the month of October, even if you haven’t completed the college applications yet. Early filers can often end up with a better aid package than late filers.
Once the application is completed and transmitted to the federal government, the Department of Education in this case, uses federal methodology to generate a Student Aid Report (SAR) which includes your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Essentially, the EFC is what you are expected to pay upfront. The EFC is based on two main factors: the family household income and the number of people in college.
An Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR – you definitely don’t need to know this term!) is sent to the college financial aid offices you list on the FAFSA. This gives the college all of the information found on the SAR. Once the student is accepted by the admissions office, the college financial aid office will then come up with a financial aid package if the student is eligible. This package usually contains a combination of grants, loans and work-study. You’ll generally receive a financial aid award letter (or online access to one) within a few weeks of being accepted. The award letters can be a little tough to make sense of if you’ve never seen one before. You can read more about them here and here.
The chart below shows a variety of scenarios for financial aid.
Total Cost of Attendance
Not all colleges meet 100% of financial need, in fact, most don’t. If there is a significant gap, the family might have to look at private financing [loans :( ]. Here is a list of all schools that meet 100% of need.
If earnings are stable, the overall amount a family must contribute should stay roughly the same. When the number attending college increases, that amount will be divided by the number in college. For example, say a student’s EFC is $20K with one person attending. When a younger sibling enrolls in college the next year, each student will have an EFC of $10K. Each family member attending college must complete a FAFSA.
Net Price Calculator
All colleges are required to have a Net Price Calculator on their website. It’s designed to give you an early snapshot of what a financial aid package might look like for a given student. It will generally ask about family income and the student’s academic performance/standardized test scores. Based on those two factors it provides an early financial aid estimate. Typically they aren’t asking for your name; the information you provide is anonymous. Some colleges have pretty accurate net price calculators, while others comply with the requirement but are less precise. You can usually find the net price calculator on the financial aid section of the college website. If you can’t find it then type “net price calculator” in the search box that’s usually in the top right corner of the homepage on most sites.
You can also use the Federal Aid Estimator to get an early estimate of your EFC.
MYIntuition is also an excellent calculator that works with about 75 selective private schools to give an estimate in less than five minutes.
There are some private colleges that require a supplemental financial aid application called the CSS Profile. These colleges want a more complete picture of the family’s financial situation. Here is a complete listing of the roughly two hundred schools that require the CSS Profile.
Who doesn’t like free money for college? Scholarships are a great way to make college slightly more affordable. There are a number of different types of scholarships out there. Below is a brief description of what you can expect to find.Institutional
These make up the overwhelming majority of scholarship money awarded each year. Colleges want to attract good students so they will often offer merit-based money to those students. State schools do offer some scholarships, but private schools typically offer scholarships to more students and at higher dollar amounts (don’t forget they’re also more expensive!). It’s often based on meeting certain GPA and SAT/ACT criteria. A hypothetical example might be a student with 90 and an 1100 earning a $5,000 Provost scholarship (they come up with lots of formal-sounding scholarship names). Someone with a 95 and a 1300 might be awarded a $15,000 Presidential scholarship. This is one of the reasons we recommend retaking either the SAT or ACT a second time; even if your initial score is enough to get you into the school of your choice, a higher score might vault you into a higher scholarship bracket. If you apply as a test-optional applicant, then your test scores are generally not required when determining merit-based scholarships, but check with the school to be sure. You don’t need to apply for institutional scholarships like these – they award them automatically.
Many schools have additional scholarships that can be awarded to students entering certain fields or students with a specific background. These scholarships might require a separate application. You can usually find scholarships on the financial aid section of the college website. If not, then search for “scholarships” in the search box that’s usually in the top right corner of the homepage on most sites.
Want to earn free room and board? Consider being a resident assistant. This job isn't for everyone, but it's a great experience, looks good on a resume, and usually results in free room and board. College students can generally apply to be an RA for their sophomore year.Private
There are many private companies and organizations that offer scholarships. These scholarships might be general and open to anyone, or directed at applicants with a particular background. These are generally lower dollar amounts, anywhere from fifty dollars up to a few thousand (every bit helps!). The larger dollar scholarships will obviously have more applicants. The best way to access these scholarships is through websites like Fastweb and Cappex. You create a user profile with each site and it will tell you which scholarships you’re a good match for.Area
There are some area scholarships that we receive in the guidance office. The organization will send us the actual application or instructions on how to apply. These are generally posted on our website as well.School-Based
There are approximately fifty scholarships given exclusively to Clarence students each year. There is a single scholarship application that students can fill out in March that makes them eligible for all fifty. Seniors can fill out the application at the following link. Applications must be received by March 28th at 4:00 p.m. Scholarship Application
The Excelsior Scholarship can be a great option for students who plan to stay in New York State after graduation. Students who attend a SUNY or CUNY school (including community colleges) are generally eligible if their household income is $125,000 or less. The scholarship does not include room and board, just tuition costs. Recipients are required to live and work in NYS for the number of years they receive the scholarship. You must apply for this scholarship annually. Find out more about it here.