“I have to be completely honest…I have no idea what I am doing”
Saying it out loud made me feel so much better. I had been putting off this call for a few weeks, but the first step was asking for help. I was in the process of applying to graduate school but was confused about the financial aid process. This was a tad embarrassing because I was working in admissions and financial aid at the time. Nonetheless, the financial aid officer was incredibly helpful and happily answered my questions. Even if you prefer speaking directly with a financial aid counselor, check out the handy free tools listed below.
The College Scorecard is a fantastic source of accurate and important information about colleges. Wondering what the graduation rate of a college looks like? How about the salary for alums? These are important things to think about because the more time you spend in college, the more money it is going to cost you (and if your institution has a high graduation rate, you know that students are graduating on time). Ditto for earnings, because after all, your education is an investment!
2. Net Price Calculator
The Net Price Calculator (or NPC) has been an absolute game-changer for students applying for aid. While in years past, you had to apply for aid and wait to see what you were awared, the NPC provides a custom estimate for students at individual colleges. Therefore, I always recommend that students who intend to apply for financial aid fill out the NPC for EVERY school they apply to. Note, you should also try to use the NPC on the actual website of the school you will be applying to. These calculators tend to be more accurate than then general NPC you can find on other websites.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA is an essential document for every student who will be applying for financial aid. The FAFSA can be a bit of a tricky document, but luckily, the Department of Education has put together some useful videos for filling out the forms.
4. Your College’s Financial Aid website
As I mentioned early–the financial aid officers at the colleges you are applying to can be your best friends. If you have questions about financial aid policies, the websites of the colleges that you are considering can be invaluable. For anything else, you can pick up the phone and give the office of financial aid a call.
While merit scholarships are helpful, need-based financial aid is going to be your bread and butter for paying for college. Many colleges spend the vast majority of their financial aid budget on need-based financial aid, so there can potentially be a huge upside for students. This is also why you should pay attention to the net price of a college (which takes need-based financial aid into account) as opposed to merely the sticker price.