We know how important your involvement is in your child's education - we also know how difficult it can be to stay on top of all of the important steps in planning and preparing for college.
Below you'll find this month's content - LEARN (info to know), DO (action to take), and TIPS (insights for success)
Understanding your Award Letter
Once the college applications have been filed and the FAFSA has been submitted, you want to sit back and enjoy the view from the other side. But wait…you’re not done yet. In the early part of the year you’ll receive award letters from each of the colleges that you listed as viable choices on the FAFSA. This letter will list the gift aid and the self-help aid that will be available to your student and family.
What is gift aid?
Gift aid is money that is given to your student based on merit or need, and is not in need of repayment. This type of aid can fall under the title of scholarship or grant. It can come from the school, the federal government, or from a private entity that awards money, like a company, organization, or foundation.
What is self-help aid?
Self-help aid is the type of money that is allocated to a student’s education that is in need of repayment: i.e. a loan.
When reading an award letter, it is important to note that not everything is as clear as you’d like it to be. If you find yourself with questions, know that you are not the only one and that the school’s Financial Aid Department and its staff are there to assist you in understanding what is being offered. You can take the time to call and speak to them anytime.
When looking at an award letter, here are some things to watch out for:
- Because of space limitations, loans are often listed as L or LN. Such as Stafford LN. This is a federal loan that is in the student’s name and is calculated at, currently, a 3.9% interest rate (at the time of article being written). The interest rate is usually not listed.
- Sometimes colleges list the Parent Plus Loan. Calculated at about 6.5%, this is not mandatory to take or carry. Also know that if you borrow this year, debt will accumulate, and next year’s amount will be higher as tuition and room & board costs increase.
- Grants can decrease after the first year – so it is important to ask the Financial Aid Department how much might be allocated for following years.
- Scholarships often come with benchmarks – certain GPAs or other requirements that must be met to keep the money from year to year. Make sure you and your student know what is expected.
- You may see the term “work study” on your letter - basically, your student works for the school part time while attending and their wages/compensation gets applied toward the bottom line. The amount offered as “work study” might not actually come in the amount offered – that number is the top amount. Not everyone gets that. This is an area to question as well. Find out which jobs, areas, options are available to freshmen students and what the typical work study amount is for the students.
- There are no colleges that are trying to knowingly pull a bait and switch, but know that if you just sign on the dotted line, you could end up paying far more than your calculated Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
During this time, many families choose to employ the help of a College Financial Planner who can analyze your family’s specific financial situation and your college options. You can also take advantage of the school’s Financial Aid Counselors for free and know that you can certainly call more than once. Be sure to ask every question you can before committing this huge sum of money toward your child’s future. Is your kiddo worth it? Of course! But make sure you know what you are paying before agreeing to do so.
If you’d like more information, this link will lead you to a great website that offers detailed information and nice visual aids to help you understand even more about paying for college.
Now is a great time to shop for dorm room essentials. You’ll have plenty of time now to shop for deals than you will have in August - plus, it can be a great time of bonding for you and your student in these final months of the school year.
Have they made their final choice on college yet? This is a great time to plan any last visits so that he/she can make the most informed decision possible.
Is your student taking an Advanced Placement class this school year? Talk to their counselor about signing up for the AP test - it's a great opportunity to earn inexpensive college credit.
Know a school that could use some college readiness support?
We also offer Student Curriculum to schools and provide Parent Education on College Planning. Additionally, we work with schools and districts to increase the college readiness of their students. Learn more by clicking here.