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Ask the Experts: Student Financial Aid for College

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, April 07, 2014

Question Do schools ever grant scholarships or financial aid assistance for students who score high on their standardized tests? - john

 

AnswerHigh standardized test scores can have beneficial results in three ways. First, those high testing candidates who apply for financial aid based on need may receive a more generous financial aid package; that is, more outright grant and less loan or work study award as a recognition of their test results. Second, close to 80% of colleges and universities today award merit-based grants to outstanding students with high test scores. This means generous grants irrespective of financial need in order to attract these students to their campuses. Third, students can qualify for the generous state merit-based scholarship programs on the basis of high test scores in the event their grades do not meet the cut-off number.

 

Question If I know that I will need financial assistance, should I even consider putting schools on my list that right now I cannot afford? How competitive are scholarships? Is it even an option? - john

 

AnswerWe can't say it strongly enough: Don't let cost limit your college options! Most students do not pay full price for their college education. There is a huge amount of financial aid available to you — need-based aid from the federal government constituting the largest portion. Many (expensive) private colleges and flagship public universities, not to mention states themselves, also offer significant non-need-based financial aid — scholarships, grants, discounts, merit awards for academic or other talents. Some scholarships you will qualify for just by maintaining a certain GPA or getting high enough standardized test scores. Others will require extra essays or an interview.

Apply broadly to colleges that interest you, have a financial aid safety (a college you can afford to go to even if you don't get need- or merit-based financial assistance), and conduct some free scholarship searches at sites like Peterson's to find appropriate scholarships to apply for. Also plan to contact your state's department of education to learn about state-based merit- and need-based financial aid programs.

 

Question when do i apply to school for a scholarship? - ayoola

 

AnswerYou apply for need-based and non-need-based aid at the same time you apply for admission. However, you must file the FAFSA, and possibly the PROFILE forms when they become available in January. File these as early as possible to qualify for the maximum amount of need-based aid you might deserve. You may also apply for general or school-specific scholarships during the admission process. You will see mention of these in the colleges' application materials and on their Web sites. You might also be invited to apply for special merit-based scholarships after you have been admitted. Colleges are required to offer you a financial aid package at about the same time they make an admission offer, even during the Early Decision process. You cannot wait to apply for financial aid until after you have been admitted.

 

Question I want to become a teacher and I have heard that the State of Texas will pay me to go to school and get a degree to become a teacher. How do I do that? How can I find scholarships that will help me pay for financial aid? Will I qualify for a scholarship or financial aid? - Ashley

AnswerMany states, and the federal government, have specific scholarships set asides or loan forgiveness programs for students who agree ahead of time to pursue a socially important career, such as teaching, nursing, special education, or social work, or who choose to pursue such a career once they graduate college. You need to research those programs on your state's department of education (higher education section) Web site, as well as the Web site of the federal aid programs. You would fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as well as state aid forms, the CSS/PROFILE from the College Board, and any institutional aid forms individual colleges require. You might need to fill out specialized forms for some scholarship programs as well.

 

Question I've often heard that only extremely poor people get financial aid. Is this true? My family is upper-middle class, but with two college bound students in the next three years, it will be hard for my parents to send us to really good schools. Any advice on how to overcome this obstacle? - Rob

AnswerThe first thing we want to emphasize is that in order to get most assistance for college, you must apply for it. If you think you need financial aid to afford college, you should apply. As of January 1 each year, high school seniors may apply for financial aid for college in the fall using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA, at fafsa.ed.gov) and the CSS/PROFILE (collegeboard.com). We cannot emphasize this strongly enough: in order to qualify for the most aid for which you might be eligible, you should apply as soon as possible.

It is absolutely not true that only very poor students receive financial aid. First, you need to consider that there are two major types of aid: need-based, and non-need-based (or merit-based). Even families with middle and middle-upper annual incomes, even as high as $75,000 to $175,000, may qualify for need-based financial aid, depending on their particular family circumstances (such as number of children attending college, age of parents, health care costs, and other factors) and the total cost of attending a particular college.

Need-based aid is aid awarded based on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), subtracted from the Total Cost of Attendance. If the cost is more than the EFC, then you will have demonstrated financial need at a college, and may then qualify for need-based aid. 

Merit- or non-need-based aid might be in the form of scholarships awarded for academic or extracurricular talents, and even plain discounts on tuition in order to attract students like yourself to a college. To take a look at a whole bunch of these scholarships, be sure to investigate the scholarship search here at Petersons.com.

We recommend the following: apply for aid if you might need it; apply to a broad and diverse list of colleges, including those that might award only need-based aid, but give a lot of it, and those that award a lot of merit-based incentives (including both public and private colleges); and have a financial safety school (a college your family can afford even if you don't receive aid). That typically will be one of your state's public colleges or universities.

 

Question How can I get financial aid if my parents make a lot of money? I am still required to pay for college on my own? - erika

 

AnswerThe Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is precisely that: a FAMILY contribution. Unless you are an independent student over 18 (meaning, in general, that your parents do not claim you as a dependent on their tax forms, or that you're your own head of household, etc.), your parents are expected to contribute to your education.

In order to qualify for financial aid as a dependent student, you must submit both your own and your parents' financial and tax information. More of your savings are expected to be contributed toward your education, and you might also be asked to work and save toward college (Federal Work Study). More of your parents' current income will be expected to be directed toward college, but less than six percent of their savings will be expected to be used for your college and their retirement savings will typically be exempted. It is complicated, especially in situations where families have experienced a divorce and remarriage.

If your parents make a lot of money, but refuse to contribute toward your college education, then you may have to communicate with colleges to explain your circumstances and the limited funds available to you, but it is unlikely that you will qualify for much need-based aid. You might earn some merit-based aid, and should consider colleges that award a lot of that, as well as public universities, to bring the overall cost of your education down.

Try working with your parents to establish good lines of communication and at least their support to apply to a range of colleges (in terms of both cost and entrance difficulty) and to apply for financial aid now. See what you can open up in terms of admission offers and aid packages, and then sit down together in April to look over your options. Perhaps they'll feel different about supporting you and your educational goals at that point, and you might be able to work out an agreement with them to secure their long-term support (say earning a certain GPA each year, or contributing a certain amount to college, or paying them back a certain amount over time).

 

Question I have been told that G.P.A plays a significant role in a persons eligibility to receive financial aid, is this true? and are their ways to obtain full tuition for college without having a great G.P.A or being a star athlete. If so please list a few things - David

AnswerThere are two basic forms of financial aid available today. The first is referred to as "need-based" aid. This means that students are considered for financial assistance (usually a package of outright grants, work-study pay, and loans) on the basis of the financial information a student and his or her family provides by completing the FAFSA form, and for private universities the College Scholarship Service form (CSS). If a student qualifies for acceptance into a particular college, the financial aid office then reviews the family's financial aid information to determine if they qualify for aid based on need. So, in principle this form of aid is not tied directly to a candidate's GPA. However, the applicant has to qualify for acceptance based on his academic record. 

The other form of scholarships available today is referred to as merit-based awards or aid. Merit scholarships are given to students who have outstanding academic records in high school and high entrance test scores. These awards are not tied to a student's financial circumstances.

If you have not performed that well in high school then you should concentrate your college search on those institutions that you have a likely chance for acceptance into and that have generous financial aid programs. You can check with individual colleges of interest to you to learn about their need-based aid programs.

 

Question How do you handle acquiring financial aid if you are going through a divorce? My daughter will be 18 in March and I'm not sure how to handle financial aid papers. - carlen

 

AnswerEven if you are divorcing, or already divorced, both parents will be expected to contribute toward a child's education, even one who is 18 but who is not an independent student from her parents. That means your daughter, you, and your ex-spouse will need to fill in the tax and information income on the FAFSA, PROFILE, and institutional aid forms (as required by some colleges). You may want to work with an accountant or a financial planner to help you fill these forms out for the first time and sort through the complex issues associated with a divorce.

 

Question How do parents that make a lot more money than we do manage to get so much more student aid for their kids? - David

 

AnswerYou never know. They could be receiving a combination of need-based and merit-based awards, or be attending colleges that offer more aid. They could have hidden expenses, or less savings, which could be affecting their aid awards, or multiple children in college at the same time, or any number of factors that you could be unaware of.

Probably the most important thing to do is to remember several principles, including: to apply for aid (both merit-based and need-based); to apply to colleges with big endowments that offer both full need-based awards, and also combinations of need- and merit-based awards; to talk with financial aid officers about your aid packages to see if there are ways to increase your award; and to encourage your children to be strong students, since students with good grades and test scores will likely qualify for more non-need-based aid.

 

Question My son is probably going to be a national merit finalist and as such has been offered a full ride plus living expenses at our local state Universities, both of which have good honors programs that he will be able to attend. However, he is an exceptional student, 4.0 average, with a high SAT. While he is happy with the way he has been courted by the state honors colleges (e.g., Barrett at ASU), there is still a part of him that feels that he is missing out on opportunities at more elite schools, which unfortunately don't have to court good students (just good ball players). Since money is definitely an important issue for us, it is hard for us to overlook the financial incentive. Any words of advice?  - William

AnswerWe encourage outstanding students to consider applying to the honors colleges at some of the top public universities AND to those top colleges of interest. Other than the Ivy League universities and a tiny handful in the same category, the very well endowed private universities are offering very generous scholarships, all in the form of grants, to students with profiles like your sons. He should look into these and also check out some of the state programs like University of Virginia's Jefferson Scholars program, University of North Caroline/Duke Robertson Scholars Program as examples. And the Ivies and Stanford compete with one another for very outstanding students and will do their best to make themselves affordable to families who might qualify for some, if not full, financial aid.

 

Question hello, I've been admitted to Binghamton University , in New York. but as I am an international student they are not offering me financial aid. what can I do to gather 23 400 $ in 2-3 months? - Raluca

 

AnswerFirst, try appealing your financial aid award, or lack thereof, to Binghamton. Let the university know they are your first choice and see if there is any way they can offer you financial aid, in the form of loans or grants.

Second, work with them to see what additional funding opportunities might be available for international students. They may be able to suggest private loan companies that would work with you. Just be careful about what you're getting into, especially in terms of the interest rates and repayment schedules. Be aware that too much debt could become a significant burden on you and your family.

Third, see if you might be able to secure any funding from your home country, either from banks or your government, or through private scholarships.

If nothing comes through, you may have to ask Binghamton to defer your admission for a year, which means they might hold your place for you, while you try to save some money and apply for financial aid and scholarships for next year.

 

Question My son was accepted to Univ of Miami, College of William and Mary and Vanderbilt; Vanderbilt is his number 1 choice (for biomedical engineering). My husband and I did not fill out the FAFSA form because we knew we wouldn't qualify for "need based financial aid" since we're both physicians. My questions: Should we fill out the FAFSA form anyway or is it too late? And, mostly importantly, where can we go, at this late hour, to get help with merit-based scholarships -- hire a consultant? - Daniel

AnswerWe recommend completing a FAFSA to determine what your expected family contribution is. We know of families whose AGI exceeded $100,000 and qualified for need-based aid at Princeton. However, your income may be so high that need assistance would be denied. It doesn't hurt to try, especially if you have more than one child attending college. The FAFSA can be submitted through June of the year in which your child will enroll for need-based aid consideration. As for merit-based scholarships, go to Peterson's free scholarship search, check with Vandy's admissions office for help, and also check with the biomedical engineering department for possible merit scholarships.

 

Question i'm really into the whole Financial Aid thing, but i was told that me being an african it will be impossible fo me to get one. i'm trying my best in high school and my grades are average. i don't play any sport, all i do is take care of kids for free, like a babysitting job, so i was thinking that you can tell me if there is a financial aid for africans and where i can get one. THANKS - wennie mae

AnswerIn effect, you seem to be asking about the availability of minority scholarship opportunities. Well, there are significant opportunities for minorities and some specifically earmarked for African-Americans. But first, think in terms of applying for financial assistance based on your family's income. You need to speak to your high school counselor about all the federal and state aid opportunities that are available to you. Ask how and when to apply for need-based aid opportunities. You should also go to fafsa.ed.gov, NASFAA.org and our own Peterson's site for in-depth financial aid information. Your ethnicity will not prevent you from being considered for any kind of financial assistance.

 

Question We recently inherited some money from my father when he died. Will the colleges look at that money as being all available for college tuition. If so, is there a way to invest it so that the colleges do not expect it to all go to tuition? - Kitty

AnswerTo the best of our knowledge your inheritance from your father will be considered and you must report the inheritance total on your FAFSA. Your assets will be computed at a higher rate than your parent's. If your mother is still living, we recommend you place your inheritance funds in her name. Your financial investments will reduce your eligibility for need-based aid, everywhere.

 

Question I have one child in college and one starting in the fall I would like to know if it is better for my children to attend the same college or different ones. Is there any benefit of having two children in the same college? Also what type of scholarships are out there for engineering and/or physical therapy for kids with good GPA's, but no real athletic accomplishments? - Jill

AnswerWe're aware of at least 128 colleges offering sibling discounts. On average, schools with this kind of "deal," reduce tuition by approximately 20% per student — that is, if both are enrolled at the same school. If you apply for need-based aid and are found eligible, you will have your expected family contribution reduced by 50% due to two in college at the same time. So, that is also a benefit. As for engineering and physical therapy scholarships, conduct a free Peterson's scholarship search.

 

Question I was wondering if you apply early decision and find that with the financial aid package you have received you can't or are not willing to spend the amount expected of the family, what happens? - Andrew

 

AnswerIf parents are unwilling to "spend" the EFC on college costs, the school will not increase the aid package. If the parents are unable to meet the EFC, they need to explain why, in writing, and appeal for increased aid. Parents can also borrow against their EFC. You really need to speak directly to a financial aid counselor at your school of choice for personal guidance.

 

Question As a parent with limited income, $60,000 a year with 5 family members, I am concerned what I hear about colleges not meeting the need that they express they do... how true is this? Can a family of 5 with an income of $60,000 afford to send their student to school like Concordia College in CA or any other christian college in the US. My son has an overall GPA of 3.2 and a 1700 on SAT.. he will be the first in the family to attend college and we are very concerned about the cost! Thank you - Elijah

AnswerDon't let cost limit your son's applications to a broad list of colleges both public and private. Make sure you fill out the FAFSA and PROFILE financial aid forms as well as any particular forms required by individual colleges. That will maximize your ability to receive to need-based financial aid.

Yes, many colleges do not have the ability to meet the financial need of all applicants, and you'll see loans as part of the financial aid packages. So make sure to have a school or two on the list that you can afford without significant financial pain such as a regional branch of your state university system.

Browse colleges' web sites to learn how much aid is provided to the typical student, and what percentage of students receives financial aid. Apply to private colleges that offer a combination of need-based and merit-based financial assistance. Colleges at which your son will be a strong academic applicant will often provide additional merit awards over and above the need-based assistance.

Given your income level and the number of children in your household you are almost certain to receive significant aid for college.

 

Question can i join any american university and get scholarship or loan even if i am a foreign student from kenya - dominic

 

AnswerYou might be admitted to some American colleges and universities, and you might receive college-based financial aid from some of them. As a non-U.S. citizen or resident alien, you will not qualify for the largest portion of financial aid — that provided by the federal and state governments. Colleges that provide aid to internationals do so out of their own budgets, which means they have a lot less to offer. You can find out whether a college offers aid to internationals, and some sense of how much, by looking at the colleges' Web sites, and, in particular, the financial aid sections.

 

Question My parents have decided to adopt, so they are going to start raising money for adoption. My mom has questioned whether she should get a part time job and save her earnings for adoption and/or do fundraising. However, we are concerned that when I fill out the FAFSA, the expected family contribution will be more even though the extra money will all be saved for adoption. Is it better for her to get a job or do fundraising? Is there any way to show on the FAFSA that the money is for adopting? - Melody

AnswerTough question. Money in parents' accounts that are non-retirement related are typically assessed at about a six percent rate to pay for your college education. However, exceptions are made for certain family expenses and responsibilities. Your parents should plan to send a letter to financial aid offices explaining the extenuating circumstances of the planned adoption, and the creation of the account for that purpose. We are not sure how that will affect the FAFSA EFC calculations, especially if the adopted child is not yet part of the family, but this sounds like one of those gray areas that give financial aid officers some discretion in how they award aid funds.

 

Question I am a senior in high school with a 95% average. I have taken up challenging courses like AP classes (i scored a 5 in AP biology). I am aiming for a career in medicine. (my SAT score is 2050..750 in math, 650 on writing and 650 on CR. I came to New York in my junior year on a valid h4 (dependant) visa. My green card and ssno. are being processed and are expected soon. As I have to apply to colleges by January, I want to know what effect my legal status and academic performance will have on my eligibility for grants, aid and scholarships. - archana

AnswerThe underlying point here is that unless you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien (green card holder), or one of a couple of other special categories, you will be ineligible for most need-based aid, which is awarded by the federal and state governments. You sound like a strong student, with fair chances for admission at many selective colleges, some of which might offer aid to non-U.S. citizens or resident aliens.

You need to file the FAFSA as close to January 1 as possible of the coming year. You can do so, noting the pending change in your status. Some colleges might award an aid package pending certification of that status in May, for entrance in the fall. However, it might be that the FAFSA won't produce a student aid report without your SSN and legal status complete. This sounds like another situation where a letter to financial aid offices at the colleges to which you are applying can help to clarify the situation.

 

Question Should I list the names of other universities and colleges other than the one I am sending the application to in the student information section of International Student Financial Aid Application? Thanks a lot. - Jia

 

AnswerYes, you should list all of the colleges to which you plan to apply because this will release the information to each of them. Otherwise the financial aid officers will not be able to consider you for scholarship assistance. Be sure to check with each university about their policy for scholarships for international students, since a majority of American universities do not award aid to internationals. You can find this information on each institution's Web site.

 

Question i am 17 years old and i dont know how im going to pay for college my mom is taking care of 4 kids on her own because our dad is locked up. im wondering what kind of scholarships will i be able to get - whitney

 

AnswerThere is a huge amount of need-based financial aid available, as well as many merit-based scholarships. Do as well as you can academically, and make sure to prepare for standardized tests (SAT/ACT) — that will help open up the merit awards. As you apply to colleges, make sure to file the FAFSA and College Board PROFILE forms as soon as possible after January 1 of senior year. That will open up the universe of need-based financial aid. Fill out college financial aid applications they might have in addition to their own admission applications. Our rule is, if you can get in, you will likely find a way to pay for school. Given your family circumstances, you might also consider writing a letter to colleges to accompany your financial aid forms explaining the situation and the hardship you are facing.

 

Question My family financial situation is, to put it simply, horrible. My father passed away when I was ten, leaving a sum of money that was eventually depleted by my previously unemployed mother. I have no college savings account. My mother just recently obtained a job working as a social worker -- her salary is around 42,000/year, which she is very happy with. 

I was wondering if you could tell me about what I should expect from need-based aid. Does my situation put me in the lowest bracket, and, if so, does that basically mean I'm guaranteed a full ride from colleges that promise to meet all demonstrated need? I've heard before that Harvard has pledged to pay for a student's tuition in full if his annual income is less than 40,000/year --- would that extra 2,000 my mom makes deter me from that scholarship if I were accepted into Harvard? Do most other Ivy League schools have a similar policy regarding aid? 

I am, of course, pursuing all of the scholarships I can get my hands on, and I'm aware that there are many merit-based scholarships out there in non-Ivy league schools (not to mention Florida Bright Futures here at home, which would guarantee me a full ride). If I get a scholarship package from a college and the school is still unaffordable, is it reasonable to assume I'll be able to make up all of the difference in student loans? Thanks for your assistance. - Jordan

AnswerWe admire your pluck and determination to enroll in a major university in spite of the costs and your family's financial circumstances. Based on the family circumstances you describe, you definitely will qualify for aid from the major federal funding programs; and the FAFSA form's expected family contribution formula will verify your need.

Only a handful of colleges have the financial resources to guarantee full scholarship coverage without resorting to loans for a student in your circumstances. Some of the Ivy League universities like Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth as well as Harvard make this commitment. However there are many other excellent colleges that have generous aid programs for which you should qualify.

You should research colleges on the basis of their overall appeal to you AND their financial aid programs. Colleges will indicate the percentage of students who receive aid and the average amount. You should apply to your state universities as well as those private universities that you have identified as having generous aid programs. Don't forget to factor travel and living expenses farther from home, so consider colleges in the nearby south.

 

Question Ok Im going to be independent away from my parents when i graduate high school, but most of the applications for fafsa and grants say they want parent descriptions and information. Even though im goin to be an independent student do i still have to put that information on there?? - Candice

AnswerTypically you do, and also provide information to document that you are independent (a specific category in financial aid considerations). Colleges are seeking to avoid students declaring themselves independent from their parents in order to qualify for more need-based aid when there might be significant parental resources available to pay for a student's education. The government and colleges maintain and expect that parents have a significant responsibility to pay for their children's education, second only to the student him/herself. So, you will either need to furnish the appropriate information establishing your independence, or the information establishing your parents' ability, or inability, to pay for your college education.

 

Question When I finish High School how will I pay for college? - appollonia

 

AnswerThat's a big question, and you'll likely be considering several streams of funding to help you pay for school:

1) Out of pocket payments from your parents and yourself. These payments can be from savings, or from current earnings, and will likely be a combination of both.

2) Grants from your college, typically including a lot of state and federal money based on your financial need. You want these. You don't have to pay them back.

3) Scholarships from your college, private sources, or your state government, based on merit, some kind of affiliation (like your parent's job or a local Rotary club), or a special talent. You also want these, since you don't need to repay them. Scholarships also come in the form of discounts from colleges off their "sticker price" tuitions.

4) Loans, most often facilitated through the college, but sometimes direct from private banks, state lending agencies, home mortgages, and so on. Some loans will be yours, others will belong to your parents. Some will be subsidized by the government (they pay the interest on the loans while you're in school). Loans are a growing portion of most student aid packages. They are not bad, and can help you afford college now, investing in yourself for your long term success. However, carefully evaluate how much loan debt you are taking on, and what share is yours and what share belongs to your parents. What will be your plans to repay them?

5) Work-study. You will be paid to work in a research lab, the library, the cafeteria, or even a local community service job, and your wages will be subsidized by the government. You will also have to earn some money during the summer to contribute toward your education.

How best to pay? Try to maximize number 1 (savings first) and 3 (scholarships based on merit — do well on your grades and your test scores and you will be more likely to receive merit-based awards). Maximize number 2 (need-based grants) by getting into selective colleges that offer a lot of need-based aid.

 

Question I wanted to ask in general that when a student gets nearly full financial aid in any of the usa colleges for undergraduate studies, it is always mentioned that the aid is for the current year and one has to reapply for the next year provided the student is able to maintain a certain grade and the parent has the same financial condition. I wanted to know that if the above conditions are met, then is the student able to get the same financial aid for the rest of the 3 years of studies easily? thanks - gurmeet

AnswerGood question. You are correct that you must reapply for aid every year in college (in January, as soon after the first of the year as possible is preferable). Typically, if you are making "adequate progress" toward your degree, and are not on any kind of academic warning, etc., and your family circumstances are the same, then your need-based aid package will not change dramatically. Sometimes your aid will increase as family savings might have been eaten up, a parent might have a change in job status, or another sibling will enter college. Sometimes aid will decrease if family income increases, a sibling graduates college, or you inherit money from a grandparent, for example.

Note that U.S. government financial aid can increase, and the composition of your aid package can change, for example, as Stafford Loan amounts can increase in your third and fourth years of school. Merit-based (non-need-based) aid is often governed by very specific conditions made clear when you are first offered the scholarship. So, read the fine print carefully. The award might or might not be renewable every year. If it is automatically renewable, then you might need to maintain a higher GPA, such as a 3.0 (B), or fulfill other conditions.

 

Question I applied for financial aid, and was informed by my college, a community college, that my parents make too much money. However, we might make a lot of money, but we have a lot of medical bills that have to be paid every month. We need help. How do I go about getting financial aid? Thank you - Ashley

AnswerBecause the community colleges are publicly sponsored and have the lowest tuition charges of all the levels of colleges and universities, they provide limited aid to the most needy students. By contrast, the more expensive four-year state and private colleges have much larger financial aid funds to allocate to students. Because their costs are much higher, you might qualify for aid. Your parents and you can submit a personal statement with copies of expenses that indicate the heavy medical costs that have been incurred. You can make an appointment to meet with the financial aid officer to discuss this matter.

 

Question How does your total family income affect your chances for admission? My husband is self-employed and his income fluctuates monthly and is also impacted by his expenses. Thanks! - Ashley

 

AnswerIncome typically doesn't affect admission chances at all. Most selective colleges do not consider income in most admission decisions, so you should apply for need-based financial aid if you might need it. You also should write an explanatory letter to each college's financial aid office describing income fluctuation from year to year. Many consultants, writers, actors, sales people, and others see great variation in their income from year to year and financial aid offices will try to figure out what is an appropriate estimate of current and coming year parental income when adjusting your Expected Family Contribution and projected financial need as produced by the FAFSA and PROFILE calculations.

Yes, most colleges do at some point in the admissions process take into account their overall financial aid budget and some applicants' level of financial need when shaping their final class, but we find in most cases this doesn't affect applicants who do not need full or very significant amounts of financial aid.

 

Question I am planning on taking a few AP and Concurrent Enrollment classes (which count as college credit)  I figure by the end of my Senior year I will have 32 college credits (Assuming I do well on AP exams).  Does this mean that colleges will consider me a sophomore and NOT offer me scholarships available to incoming freshman? - Jane

AnswerMost important, college admissions officers will be mightily impressed with your enriched and advanced curriculum and the motivation to learn that this reflects. You should apply as a freshman candidate and, once enrolled in the college of your choosing, negotiate credit recognition for some of your course work. This will free you up to take many more courses that relate to your interests. Your advanced credits will have no negative impact on financial aid award. The information on the financial aid forms that you will submit will be the determining factor as to your demonstrating financial need and thus scholarship awards. The many colleges that offer outstanding students merit-based awards (regardless of financial need) may well be interested in you because of your strong academic program.

 

Question What do I do if a great deal of my funding is coming from the PLUS Loan (a loan for parents), but my parents aren't creditworthy? Is there any way that the school could offer more loans in my direction versus my parents? - Elise

AnswerIf your parents are denied a PLUS loan you should notify your school immediately and a financial aid counselor should be able to increase your aid award accordingly, probably from a loan source. However, please be advised that if your parents can document extenuating circumstances, they may be able to be approved. In addition, if someone they know, who can pass the credit check, agrees to endorse the loan and promises to repay it, the PLUS might be approved as well.

 

Question I have a 529 plan for my son (a junior) and daughter (a freshman). Both have the parents as owners and the kids as the beneficiary. I have heard pluses and minuses about the 529 plan - please advise as it relates to our chances of getting any financial aid. Thanks - Sanjay

AnswerThe 529 savings plans have become, by far, the most popular vehicle for putting money away for a child's education. Besides the tax advantage to the 529 plan, the fact that the assets are in the parents' name, not the student's, means that a much smaller percentage of the total amount at the time of entering college is expected to be put towards college costs. 35% of savings in a student's name are typically expected to be allocated to college tuition. This savings plan on your part does not necessarily exclude scholarships from a college. It all depends on how much is available in savings and how much you can allocate from earnings towards your childen's college costs. You are creating far better opportunities for your children by saving at this time, since most colleges would prefer to allot partial rather than full scholarships.

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