Tag college affordability

It’s Financial Aid Time

You can apply for financial aid now! 

The first step to getting financial aid is to apply.  And although you may still be completing your college application, you can already start filling out the applications for financial aid.  The two most used forms are available to be completed now.   

What is the FAFSA? FAFSA stands for FREE Application for Federal Student Aid – it is the free government application to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study for college.  All US citizens and students with legal status in the US should complete the FAFSA regardless of whether you think your family’s income and assets will put you out of range for need-based financial aid.  Many colleges, state scholarship agencies, and foundations also use the FAFSA in deciding who gets their scholarship money.   

What is the CSS Profile?  The  College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile is an online application developed by the College Board and used by many private colleges (and some public universities) and scholarship programs to award financial aid and/or scholarships.  There is a fee to submit the CSS Profile so check the list of colleges and programs to know if you need to complete this application.   


  • Check Requirements 
    • Find the FAFSA codes for colleges on your list  
    • Determine if extra forms such as the CSS Profile or a college specific form is required 
    • Does your state require additional forms for residents applying to state colleges 
  • Gather ALL the information needed. Be sure you have: 
    • Your social security number 
    • Parents’ social security numbers 
    • Your income statement (if you had any) for the past year 
    • Amount in savings, checking or other types of assets 
    • Copy of latest tax return
  • File Early 
    • File your financial aid forms as early as possible 
    • Check all deadlines at colleges you are applying to and mark them on your calendar
  • Inform Colleges of Special Circumstances. Let the college know in a separate letter if: 
    • A parent lost a job or had a decrease in income 
    • Parents divorced recently  
    • There is a family member with special medical costs 
    • There are other financial circumstances in your family the college should know about 


  • Report more information than requested. 
    • Don’t include assets from parent retirement 
    • Don’t include a farm your family lives on 
    • Don’t include a small business income or assets 
    • Don’t include your family home as an asset 

Take Action 

  • Create a Financial Aid Form report to use when completing your FAFSA. It summarizes all the financial aid requirements for each of the schools on your list and has the FAFSA codes for all your colleges. 
  • Complete the EFC Calculator Survey in Surveys section. 
  • Watch for milestone reminder emails about upcoming financial aid deadlines. 
  • Check financial aid statistics in GuidedPath on each college on your list. 
  • Mark off each financial aid milestone as you complete it.

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How do you get money for college? (FAFSA!)

Your eligibility for financial aid will be based on the calendar year starting in January of your junior year.  Now is the time to learn what information you and your parents will need in order to file a FAFSA.  

What is the FAFSA? 

The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form students and parents must complete and submit to the federal government to determine their eligibility for financial aid and scholarship opportunities. 

Who files the FAFSA? 

Since this is a federal application, it is for US citizens or students with a legal status in the United States.  International students are not eligible for federal student aid. 

What kind of aid does the federal government offer? 

There are three types of aid offered by the US government: 1) Grants, 2) Student Loans, 3) Work-study.  Colleges will also often use the FAFSA to award their own need-based financial aid.    

Take Action 

  1. Complete the EFC Calculator in GuidedPath.  Review the results with your parents. 
  2. Read Tackling the Basics of College Affordability to learn how colleges award financial aid. 

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Choosing the best financial aid offer

When looking at financial aid awards from the schools you’ve been admitted to, one offer may appear better than others.  But is it really?  How do you know? 

Once you’ve entered your financial aid offers into GuidedPath (see last week’s Guru blog) you can compare awards.  Which of your college offers adds up to a 5star Award rating?  Follow these steps to compare offers from up to 4 colleges at a time. 


  1. Log into your GuidedPath account. 
  2. Click on Decisions in top blue menu bar.  Find drop down link for Cost Comparisons. 
  3. Select up to 4 colleges with awards you want to compare. 

Comparison Questions 

Look over your cost comparison charts on GuidedPath.  Check out the following line items for each college on your list: 

  • Award Rating:  What is the star rating?  5 stars is best. 3-5 stars is a good award. 
  • Percent of need met:  Is the school meeting more than 50% of your need? 
  • Average NeedBased Award Does your award match or exceed the average needbased financial aid package?  If not, ask the college why your award is less than their average. 
  • “Gift” aid offered:  Look at the Total Grants and Total Scholarships awarded.  This is money you don’t have to pay back.  Which school is offering you the most in these two categories combined? 
  • Student Loans offered:  The loan limit for Direct Loans for a dependent freshman is $5500.  Are you being offered this amount between subsidized and unsubsidized loans? 
  • Unmet Need (Gap):  Do you have need?  Is there unmet need?  How much?  If you have unmet need, contact the college using to ask if more financial aid is available. 
  • Four/Six Year Outlook:  Which college will cost you more if you take 4 years to graduate?  6 years to graduate? 

Take Action
By comparing financial aid awards side by side, you will see which colleges have given you the best offers.  This is important to consider as you finalize your college choice for the fall. 

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Analyzing Financial Aid Awards Made Easy

Audry came into my office so excited!  “I have all my financial aid awards- but I have no idea what they mean!” How many parents and students have this same question?

I sat Audry and her parents down and we started entering information into GuidedPath. With the Cost Comparisons tool in GuidedPath, it is easy to view and compare awards- seeing which colleges are truly making the best offers.

Decision Details
Using the Decision details, we ran through each financial aid award line by line. The decision details has several drop down choices; grants, scholarships, student loans, work study, parent loans, even a section for “other” awards. Any type of award offered by a college, including merit awards, can be recorded in this section.  Enter all amounts as an annual amount. There are options to add award names, and to calculate four year totals. We breezed through each award, using the “Next Decision” button.

Decision Dashboard
Once all the financial awards are entered, it was time to stand back and view the overall picture. Which college offered the most grants or scholarships?  Which one required the largest parent loans? What about workstudy or student employment?  The Decision dashboard displays very clearly how the financial aid awards stack up against each other, in year 1. What about beyond year 1? And what was the average graduation rate of the institutions?

Cost Comparison
Using cost comparisons is the answer! Select 4 colleges with awards to compare. Using the dropdown box, select 4 colleges to view cost comparison.  The cost comparisons provides a way to project costs for 4 and 6 years. This starts with the Estimated cost of attendance:

  • Direct Costs
    • Tuition
    • Room and board
    • Books and supplies
  • Indirect Costs
    • Personal Expenses
    • Transportation

Financial Aid Award Breakdowns
Within the cost comparisons, you can view:

  • Total Gift Aid
  • Total Loans
  • Family EFC
  • Unmet need
  • Additional funds needed

The 3 A’s

Included in the cost comparisons are the three A’s:

  • Average need based financial aid award packages
  • Anticipated need based financial aid package for Audry
  • Actual need based financial aid package. Did Audry get offered more than we expected? Less? Or right in the middle of the range?  This is an important number to know, if we want to write an appeal and ask the college to reconsider what they can offer in terms of financial awards.

Can Audry get out in 4 years?  Or will it be more like 6 years?  This is included in the cost comparisons too.  The GuidedPath rating system gives you an answer at a glance.  From 5 caps (75% graduation rate or more) down to 0 caps (less than 10% graduation rate).  A good sign is lots of graduation caps- either at the 4 year or 6 year rate.  Included in the outlooks section is an estimate of what 4 years/6 years of additional funds will be required of the family.

What is your award rating?
GuidedPath Cost Comparisons take the guess work out of comparing.  See at a glance with the Award rating which college is truly offering an outstanding package for a student.

Audry and her parents were surprised to learn the college they thought was offering the best financial aid award was not as good as they thought.  Another college’s offer was better initially, and would be better over the four years.  Audry and her parents left the office with mixed emotions: clarity and excitement. Clarity on what their real choices were. Excitement for what the next four years would bring.
That, is, to me, the finest moment in this entire journey. It is the reason I wake up each morning and look forward to helping another student, another family on this journey.  To find clarity and excitement. To take a step into the next chapter in life’s journey, knowing what the choices are, and having an clarity of how they are going to accomplish that choice.
Good night Audry.  Hope you sleep well tonight.

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