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Financial Aid Q & A: The Basics

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Have questions about financial aid? This group of questions and answers covers the basic information you need about college costs, campus work, need-based vs. merit-based aid, and tips for getting aid, as well as a section all about the relationship between rolling admissions and financial aid.

What is cost of attendance (COA)?
This refers to the total direct and indirect costs of your education expenses for an award year. Tuition, mandatory fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation expenses, and personal expenses make up the traditional components of your COA. The cost of a computer can be included as part of your personal expenses as well. Some institutions may include other institution-specific expenses in your COA budget. When researching financial aid information, keep potential COA in mind as well.

How much does college cost?
Just as the cost of an automobile depends on the make and model, college costs can vary widely. If you attend a local community college and live at home, your out-of-pocket costs for the entire academic year may only be a few thousand dollars. A state-supported public university will have a total cost of education anywhere from $10,000 to $17,000 a year. An Ivy League college education can easily cost $45,000 annually. (These costs are for the 9-month academic year and include tuition and fees, books and supplies, transportation expenses, room and board, etc.)

Are there jobs on campus?
Campus work is available and can be a good source of financial aid for college. Most colleges employ significant numbers of their own students. They understand that college students are motivated, reliable, and smart employees. Remuneration for on-campus work is priceless, especially for new students. Invaluable campus contacts, mentoring, and organizational smarts all become benefits to the employee.

There are two types of positions: Federal Work Study, which is based on need and can come as part of your student aid package, and other on-campus positions that are not based on need.

What is the difference between need-based aid and merit-based aid?
Need-based student aid is allocated based on the financial need of the family. Merit-based student financial aid takes into account factors such as grades, test scores, talent, and skills, (e.g. music or drama).

How can I reduce my college costs?
Actually, there are quite a few ways to do this:

  • Reduce your college budget.
  • Earn college credit on an accelerated basis (reducing the length of time you are in school).
  • Earn college credit outside the traditional classroom.
  • Make use of payment alternatives.
  • Tax credits.
  • Combine higher education and course-related employment.
  • National and community service.
  • Tuition prepayment plans.
  • Take courses during the summer at a local college.

 

What are the most important financial aid tips to remember?

Just be sure to apply for everything you can, including federal, state, and school or college aid, as well as private scholarships. Also, you must maintain academic eligibility as you progress through school. There are specific eligibility requirements that must be met and certain limits to each aid program that may affect eligibility down the road. Write down the college deadlines for each school of interest and adhere to the deadlines.

Is it possible to get financial aid for classes taken during summer sessions?

At some schools, it is possible to get financial aid for summer classes including work study. If you are attending at least half-time, you may be eligible for a state grant or a student loan. Of course, the number of courses taken in the summer is but one component of eligibility.

What if you've applied to a school with rolling admissions?
If you applied to a school with rolling admissions, hopefully you did it early in the applications process. If you did, then you'll hear back pretty early, and if you're accepted, you'll have more than enough time to get going on the scholarship application process. Your pursuit of financial aid will pretty much mirror the same as that of someone who applied to a regular admissions school; you'll just have more time to have at it.

If you applied to a school with rolling admissions later in the applications process, then you're in a bit of a pickle. Assuming that you get in, you'll need to spring into action in pursuit of financial aid as quickly as possible. It would help if you had all the information and applications for financial aid and scholarships prepared and waiting for when you hear back about your acceptance. Since you're hearing back later in the year, there's a good chance that a lot of financial aid and scholarship money has already been snapped up by the other students, but with luck and some haste, you'll be able to get enough aid for you. 

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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