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I am hoping to apply to Williams College early, but, if I get in, I will need to see what type of financial aid they can offer me before I can commit to going there. Can I back out, if I can’t afford it? – Sarah

Good question. It is true that an insufficient offer of financial assistance is the one particular reason allowed for students to withdraw from an Early Decision commitment. The challenge is, you will not know in December, if you are admitted ED, whether Williams’ financial aid offer is or would be comparable to that from other colleges you might be admitted to.

Your first step, if you felt the offer was low, would be to talk with Williams’ financial aid counselors to see if they would reconsider your offer, based on additional information or extenuating circumstances. If not, then you would need to make a very tough decision. That is why we typically do not recommend ED as a good option for students who need significant financial aid.

Now, Williams is a generous school offering significant need-based financial aid based on the standard federal and institutional methodologies. So, it is likely their offer would be similar to that of other comparable colleges, and to that which they would offer in the spring during regular admission, but this is something to consider.

How can you determine if a private school has a generous foundation for aid? – Erika

Colleges publish their endowment data, their endowment per student, and the amount of financial aid they award per student. They will tell you whether they award need-based aid only, or also non-need-based (merit) aid. You can find out average aid packages, loan debt, and a typical aid package. All this is usually available on the colleges’ Web site, often under a special financial aid section and often with additional downloadable .pdf files. This data can help you compare colleges and, more important than sticker price, their likely total cost of attendance for you.

Should you indicate to an interviewer that you are in need of financial aid? Will they ask? Does that look bad? – Susan

This is a very important question and topic. We continually reassure students, and their parents, that in almost all cases applying for financial aid will not be a negative consideration for acceptance if a student is academically qualified and attractive to the colleges under consideration.

It can be most helpful to admissions officers to indicate in an interview if you will be applying for financial aid. This allows the interviewer to explain the financial application policies and procedures at the college, and even to refer to specific scholarships based on talents, academic performance, etc. So, if the interviewer does not ask you this question, be certain to raise it yourself before the end of the meeting.

I’m a prospective international student from Bulgaria. I need a big scholarship and financial aid. But I’m a bit confused about the financial aid matters. My question is: How important is my family income and would it be more important than the family income contribution? For example, do I have chance for financial aid if the family income is about $20,000 and their contribution for my education would be $3000 a year? Should one be very poor or rich to have chances? – Vesela

The key distinction here is that you are an international student. With a few key exceptions, non-U.S. citizens do not qualify for aid from the federal (and most state) governments. That aid constitutes the largest portion of the more than $105 billion in aid available.

With a few key exceptions (Princeton, MIT, Harvard, for example) even colleges that are completely “need-blind” in their admissions policies are not need-blind when it comes to international students. That is because they must provide any financial aid they award to foreign students largely from their own budgets. Many colleges (Dartmouth, Barnard, Colorado College, Grinnell, Mount Holyoke come to mind) offer a limited number of full and partial aid packages for international students.

When you apply to the colleges, fill out the international student applications and financial aid forms. Spread your list widely, and look for information on the college Web sites as to whether they have aid available for internationals. If they do, and if your parents and you can fund part of your tuition, then you may have a better chance of being admitted and then offered a partial financial aid award to cover the gap.

What kind of help do Colleges offer to talented international high school students with annual family income of less than 4 thousand dollars and no one to help them in their applying to college. – Nayden

Most American colleges are eager to enroll international students. They consider the diversity and perspectives that foreign students bring to campus an essential component of their educational process. They like to expose American students to peers with different backgrounds, and they seek to educate internationals about America. The problem for most colleges here is that financial aid for international students, even highly qualified ones, is limited.

Most need-based financial aid in the U.S. is provided by the federal (national) and state governments and is limited to U.S. citizens, resident aliens (green card holders), and other limited groups. Most non-U.S. citizens or resident aliens do not qualify for the bulk of aid available in our system. Canadian and Mexican citizens often qualify for more aid than other internationals, depending on the college.

Thus, for a college to offer financial assistance to an international student, it must pay for the financial aid package from its own budget (endowment or tuition dollars). Those colleges that do offer aid to international students usually only have a limited number of awards. They may reject excellent students who otherwise qualify for admission because they do not have the funds to support that student’s studies. Only a very few highly selective institutions (such as Princeton) are able to offer unlimited, need-blind admissions to international students.

If you qualify for American colleges academically, consider applying to a broad list of schools, and contacting the colleges individually to inquire about aid and application advice and assistance for international students. Most colleges have an admission officer focused specifically on international admission.

I have been accepted at a private school, but am not sure they can offer me enough money. Do I accept the in state school that has accepted me also and is less money even if I’d rather go to the private school? – Holly

You can contact the financial aid office at the private college to discuss your family’s financial situation and ask for a review of your aid application. There is nothing lost and much potentially to gain by doing this. If it turns out there is no reconsideration of your aid offer, then you have to weigh the key factors. Is the private college truly superior to the educational experience you would receive at the in-state college? Would it create a large burden for your family and for you in the future if you were to enroll in the private college? Have you explored other possible financial resources to help you pay for college (locally sponsored scholarships, corporate funded scholarships, etc.)?

How do I file the PROFILE form? on line? – Mayra

The PROFILE form is a service of the College Board. You can go online to the CollegeBoard.com Web site and download the form. This really is the most convenient way to complete this. Be sure to list the colleges to which you are applying on the form so that they will receive the financial information in time to consider you for scholarship assistance.

Do all financial aid letters HAVE to list both the ‘met’ need and ‘unmet’ need? – Marta

Technically speaking, an award letter doesn’t have to list the unmet need, although it should! Schools who only meet a small percentage of need do not want that fact to be very visible to the consumer. That’s why some letters only list the funds given. Be sure to compare other institutional awards and comparison shop for the best deal and the least out-of-pocket costs.

Are there alternate ways to get additional financial aid from a school even if you have already received their award letter? – Cait

Many times the first award letter from the aid office isn’t the final offer. If you feel that your expected family contribution (EFC) is too high, you should appeal with documentation to support your request for increased funding. Medical costs not covered by insurance or a loss of employment are examples of legitimate appeals. Make sure you appeal in writing and in person. You also want to ask the aid office to check its math. Also, make sure you look into additional options for finding money for college, like scholarships. You can check out a whole cavalcade of scholarships through the Peterson’s scholarship search tool.

I received my financial award package from a college i applied for. It says the cost of attending this particular university is over $14,000.00. I’m living at home and commuting and the tuition itself is just under $6000 with the costs of books estimated at $900. Where are they coming up with this figure of $14,000? Wouldn’t i just be liable for tuition and the costs of books, lab fees, etc? – Alan

Colleges, many times, will print/list two types of cost of attendance. The first type is what’s called direct expenses. This refers to tuition, room and board and fees. The second type of cost grouping is indirect cost. This is comprised of books, transportation, loan fees, clothing, etc. Add these two together and you get a full cost of attendance. The federal government allows colleges to set their own cost of attendance or student budgets for federal aid eligibility and state aid as well. You need to ask the university’s aid office what student budget was used to determine your aid eligibility. Commuting students are assigned a different budget than students living on campus. Make sure you have been assigned the correct budget.

We have received a significant award toward our son’s tuition at an in-state institution, but will still be $3-5000 short of the annual cost. What are the first places we should look to fill possibly fill that yearly gap? (He did also qualify for a scholarship from my employer). Also, what should we be doing now to possibly gain additional funding in future years? – Andrew

To obtain additional funding, or to close the “gap,” try speaking to the head of the department of the major your son is focused on. Many times department heads have discretionary funds to work with. Also go back and speak to the financial aid office after classes begin to see if non-returning students’ funds opened up. We recommend that your son try and obtain on-campus work so that faculty and staff get to know him and subsequently consider him for supplemental funding. Most colleges have discretionary money that is not advertised. Lastly, ask the financial aid office if your EFC is the same next year, will the school offer more assistance.

Let’s say you get accepted to a university but haven’t heard about financial aid what do you do? – Ramon

Colleges have their own processes regarding the announcement and provision of financial aid, but tend to follow general guidelines. For example, Early Decision admission offers are supposed to be accompanied by, or followed soon after by, financial aid packages. If you are admitted rolling admission, you might not hear about financial aid for some time. You can’t even file the official FAFSA and PROFILE forms until after January 1, though some colleges ask you to indicate estimated numbers in an application prior to then. If you have been admitted to a college, you can call the financial aid office and ask about a pending award, and what you might need to do (including filing the FAFSA, PROFILE, and perhaps state and institutional aid forms) to secure and hear about an aid package.

Our son was recently accepted to Northeastern University. We are aware of the FAFSA, but would be more inclined to encourage him to attend this expensive school if he received merit based awards from the school. When are merit based awards issued? Some of his friends received merit awards with their acceptance letter. Should we assume, since no award money was mentioned in the acceptance letter, that he will not get merit based aid? – Jeff

If you want to be considered for any type of need-based aid, then you must fill out the FAFSA, and possibly the College Board’s PROFILE form. It is probably a good idea to do so just in case so you will be in the financial aid pool this year. Some private scholarship organizations also require one or both of these.

In terms of Northeastern, your suspicions are likely correct: since your son didn’t receive a merit offer with his acceptance letter, he is unlikely to get one. However, you both should spend some time exploring the Northeastern Web site to see if there are any additional merit or honors scholarships for which he might apply. Financial aid sections of college sites often list additional scholarship opportunities.

I have heard that the Ivies share information on applicants amongst themselves for financial aid purposes. Is it true? Will they share only the Financial Aid Applications or any materials of an applicant’s application forms? – Jia

This is not the case anymore. At one time the Ivy financial aid officers did, in fact, meet AFTER the admissions committees had made their entirely independent decisions on whom they would admit. The purpose was to achieve a similar financial aid package based on shared personal family information so that a student could choose his or her university based on factors other than the aid package. The Department of Justice determined several years ago that this practice was in defiance of the federal anti-trust laws and put a stop on this. Today the Ivy colleges do not share information on aid awards.  It is absolutely not true that the admissions offices share information and know where else their candidates have applied.

Need money for college? Peterson’s Scholarship Search helps you find the scholarships, grants, and loans you qualify for.