Tag financial aid

Financial Aid in the time of COVID-19

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some schools to push back their enrollment deadlines, some colleges are still asking students to deposit by May 1.  Financial aid awards likely play a big part in your final decision.  But interpreting those awards might seem a bit like reading a foreign language.  Below are six common terms that you will see on a financial aid award and some ideas on how to assess your offers.   

In addition, it’s possible that your family’s financial circumstances have changed since you applied.  Whether that is related to the current coronavirus pandemic or other reasons, colleges have a process for reconsidering your financial aid award. This process is often called Professional Judgement.  We’ve included information at the end of this post on how to appeal your financial aid award.   

  1. Cost of Attendance – The Cost of Attendance is more than just tuition; it is an estimate of the total expense for one year of attendance.  It should include – 1) Tuition & Fees; 2) Room & Board; 3) Books & Supplies; 4) Personal Expenses, 5) Transportation (getting to and from the campus).  If the financial aid award does not include these items, search the website for the information or call the college.

  2. Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – The amount your family is expected to pay toward college (your EFC) is calculated by the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid).  You can find your EFC on the confirmation page you received when you submitted your FAFSA form.  This number should be listed on all your awards.  If it’s not there, ask the college why.

    Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Need

  3. Student Financial Need – Use the financial aid equation above to determine your “financial need” for each school.  Then check the college’s award letter.  If the school’s total financial aid award is less than your financial need, you have a “financial aid gap.”  You must pay this gap (in addition to paying your EFC amount) with other sources of funding not provided by the school.  Scholarships from community groups or other sources, personal savings, or private loans are examples of how students pay their EFC plus any financial gap.  
  4. Grants and Scholarships – Grants and scholarships are awards that do not need to be repaid.  Are these grants or scholarships renewable (will you received them for just freshman year or every year)?  What are the eligibility requirements that you must meet to receive the scholarship for additional years (a minimum GPA, a certain number of course credits, etc.)? 
  5. Loans – Has the college included student or parent loans in your award?  This money must be repaid by you or your parents.  A financial aid offer with only loans may not be the best choice for you.  
  6. Work-study – A work-study award is potential income that you may earn by working part-time in a work-study position.  Most work-study jobs are on-campus which can make them convenient, but a work-study award does not guarantee you a work-study job.  You must apply for work-study positions like any other part-time job.  And just like other part-time jobs, you will receive a paycheck for your work-study earnings.  It is not automatically applied toward your cost of attendance.  Contact the university financial aid office to learn about the availability and application process for work-study positions.     

Are you being offered a mix of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study?  The more money you don’t have to pay back, or earn by working, (ideally – more scholarships and grants, less loans and work-study) the better.     

Take Action 

Enter all your admission decisions and financial aid awards into GuidedPath.  This gives you a list of all the awards colleges are offering you. 

To enter college awards: 

  1. Log into your GuidedPath account. 
  2. From your dashboard, click on the blue Decisions box. 
  3. Click on each college Decision Details. 
  4. Click on Responses: Admitted? Waitlisted? Not Admitted? 
  5. Click on Awards. Add each award from your award letters in this section. 

Enter Award type | Name of the award | Annual Amount | Total Amount (4 year amount) | Additional Information (if any) 

Repeat this process for EVERY college. Get all your numbers entered to prepare for the next step: Comparing Financial Aid Awards 

Appealing for Additional Financial Aid 

Especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many families find themselves facing a very different financial reality than a few months ago.  If a parent has lost their job, has become ill which has caused them to stop work, has lost wages due to a quarantine or “stay at home” order, or even lost a substantial amount of savings/assets due to stock market changes, you may have good cause to appeal your financial aid award.  This Tip Sheet by Mark Krankowitz, author of How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid is a simple guide on how to start the process.     

In addition, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author and higher ed/financial journalist, has tips on her blog The College Solution.   

You’ll need to contact the admissions or financial aid office at the college directly, but these two lists can help you get the process started.  

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Comparing Financial Aid Awards


scale compare costs - transparent

You got into the top schools on your list.  Each has sent you a financial aid award.  One offer looks better than the other, but is it really?  It’s important to compare apples to apples when looking at financial aid offers.  Here are 6 questions to ask: 

  1. What is the Student Budget?  Does the college list all the costs for going to college: 1) Tuition & Fees; 2) Room & Board; 3) Books & Supplies; 4) Personal Expenses, 5) Transportation (getting to and from the campus).  If the award does not include these items, search the website for the information or call the college. 
  2. What is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) on your Student Aid Report?  The amount your family is expected to pay toward college is on the student aid report generated when you filed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  This number is needed for comparing financial aid awards.  If your family contribution is close to or more than the student budget, then your awards from the college are going to be based on merit, and not on the financial need you have.
  3. Is there a gap?  You should know your EFC from filing your FAFSA.  To calculate how much financial aid you should be receiving, subtract your expected family contribution from the total student budget (all five items from question 1).  The remainder is your estimated financial need at the college.  Is the college meeting your full need, or only a portion of it?

    Total Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Need 

  4. How much of your award is grants or scholarships?  Grants and scholarships are money that you will not have to repay later.  You want to maximize the amount of grants and scholarships you receive and minimize the amount of loan money you must take out.  Are the grants or scholarships renewable for four years?  What conditions exist for the renewable awards (a minimum GPA, number of credits completed, etc.)? 

  5. How much is in student or parent loans?  How much of the offer is a parent loan?  A financial aid award of $20,000 parent loan – but no grants or scholarships – is not a good offer.  Parent loans (when necessary) should ideally be used to help pay for the expected family contribution not meet your financial need.

  6. Is there a good mix?  Is there something missing?  Are you being offered grants, scholarships, loans and work?  Look for a good mix.  If you are not offered “work study” ask about it.  It is especially helpful If you are looking for a campus job to earn money for your personal expenses while in college.   

Take Action 

Use the EFC Calculator GuidedPath to determine your Expected Family Contribution.  Add in all financial aid awards into Decisions in GuidedPath.  Use the Cost Comparisons Tool to view and compare all your financial aid awards. 

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5 Myths about Paying for College

myth debunked

Here are 5 myths about paying for college that counselors often hear.  Don’t fall victim to these myths! 

1. My family maketoo much money to qualify for financial aid.
This is one of the biggest myths out there. You may not qualify for aid at one school, and qualify for lots of money at another school (see blog How Do You Get Money for College?)

2. It costs more to go out-of-state than to stay in-state. 
Not so. With increased tuition rates in many states, it is not always cheaper to stay in-state.  There are out of state tuition waivers available for many students. Also, colleges offer scholarships to students for athletes, scholars, certain majors, leadership, and other categories. Don’t narrow your list of colleges to just in-state schools.

3. It cost more to go to a private school than a public school.
Not necessarily.  Each family situation is unique and you may find it will cost less for your family if you attend a private school.  See blog: Can you Pay Less to Go To A More Expensive College? for Jack’s story of paying less at Dartmouth than CSU Los Angeles.

4. Outside scholarships help reduce what you pay out of pocket for college.
Not true. Scholarships don’t necessarily reduce your family’s out of pocket expense unless you pay the full cost of college out of pocket. Scholarships are part of your financial aid package. Colleges may subtract outside scholarships from their own merit awards, or from your student loan/work study allocation.  Ask colleges for their policies. This is why it is in your best interest to explore your choices for college.  Find one that best fits your situation and needs.  

5. Financial aid only helps with tuition.
Financial aid is available to pay for ALL college expenses: tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and personal expenses. Colleges realize you need to buy toothpaste and have a pizza now and then. Financial aid can apply to all of these costs. 

Take Action
GuidedPath offers lots of resources to help you plan for college costs. 

  • Take the EFC Calculator survey to determine your EFC and generate a strategy for reducing college costs. 
  • Read how the College Information Financial Aid Graphs provide insight into the financial aid packages offered to students. 
  • Utilize the Financial Aid Form Report in GuidedPath – it summarizes all the financial aid requirements for each of the schools on your list.   
  • Take a look at these financial aid documents prepared for GuidedPath Families including “Tackling the Basics of Financial Aid” and “How to Compare Financial Aid Offers.” 

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Common FAFSA mistakes to avoid

Up to this point, the college application process has been all about you.  However, if you are considered a dependent student, then completing the FAFSA application will be a team effort.  Before you dive in to filling out the form, be sure that everyone involved has gathered the information they need (social security numbers, tax information, FSA IDs, etc.).  In addition, avoid the following common mistakes when completing the FAFSA form.   

  1.  Not completing the FAFSA.  Students and families don’t complete the FAFSA form for a variety of reasons.  They think “We make too much money for financial aid” or “the form is too much work”.  This is a big mistake!  Even if you don’t qualify for federal grants, the FAFSA is also the application for federal work-study (your ticket to a campus job), or federal student loans (unsubsidized federal loans do not require demonstrated need).  If you don’t complete the FAFSA you will lose out on financial aid options.   
  2. Not completing the FAFSA on-time.  Most schools have a preferred filing deadline for the FAFSA form.  Students who submit their FAFSA information to the school by the deadline will receive the best consideration for financial aid.  Fill out the FAFSA form as soon as possible as it typically takes 3-5 days for a school to receive your FAFSA data (sometimes longer).  Start now!   
  3. Not getting an FSA ID.  An FSA ID is the username and password you will use to sign in and complete the FAFSA form.  This ID will also allow you to sign and submit the form electronically.  You and your parents will each need a unique FSA ID.  It can take up to 3 days for your FSA ID to be activated so that you can begin completing the FAFSA.  Apply for your FSA ID now!     
  4. Not following directions.  This may sound simple but read the directions and complete the FAFSA form carefully.  Inputting incorrect information could cost you thousands of dollars.  If you are confused about a question, there is help text and online resources that will guide you through completing the form.   
  5. Not listing all the colleges you are considering.  Each school will receive their own copy of your FAFSA data.  You should list every college that you are considering (even if you aren’t sure if you will apply or be accepted).  You can list up to 10 colleges initially and there is an option for you to list even more.  Don’t worry – the colleges can’t see what other schools you have on your list.   

Take Action 

Check out more detail on tips above and other mistakes to avoid on the US Department of Education blog “Homeroom”.  The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) also has a detailed list of FAFSA tips and mistakes to avoid.  Make it a priority to get your FAFSA done as soon as possible!   

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How much I will pay for college?

How much will I pay for college? 

Paying for college is often compared to paying for airline tickets.  No two people pay the same price.  So how much will you pay That depends on many factors.  Knowing what those factors are, and how each college will look at your family’s financial situation, will help you determine what your cost of attendance will be.   

Am I eligible for financial aid? 

Whether you are eligible for financial aid from a college depends on how much money your family can afford to contribute to your education.  The FAFSA or the CSS Profile (a financial aid application by the College Board) forms are used to determine your expected family contribution.  The forms include questions about: 

  • Your parents’ income 
  • Your income (if any) – even babysitting counts 
  • Your parents’ savings or investments 
  • Savings or investments in your name 

What is an “Expected Family Contribution”? 

The data from your FAFSA is used to calculate your “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC).  This is the number is the amount (according to the federal government) that your family should be able to afford to pay for one year of college.  Colleges use this number to determine how much (if any) need-based financial aid you will receive.  

What else is considered? 

Besides income and assets, these factors are also considered: 

  • Your parents’ age. The older they are, the more savings they should set aside to retire. 
  • Size of your family.  Large families need more money to live than small families. 
  • The number of children in college at one time.  If more than one child is enrolled in college simultaneously, the EFC for each child will be less.  Unfortunately, parents enrolled in college don’t count.  

When do I file my financial aid forms? 

Timing is everything when it comes to financial aid.  You can complete your FAFSA and CSS Profile now.  Plan to file the FAFSA as early as possible.  This is the form needed to qualify for financial grants, work-study or student loans from the federal government.  The CSS Profile may also be required by the college (or scholarship program).  This is the form colleges use to help know who needs money from the college itself.  It is their way of distributing their own funds to the students with the most need.  Colleges may have priority deadlines for both FAFSA and the CSS Profile.  Be sure to meet the early deadlines to have the best eligibility for scholarships and financial aid.  Check college websites for deadlines. 

Take Action   

Financial Aid Updates 

The formula for calculating financial aid is updated every year.  GuidedPath uses the latest tables available in the EFC Calculator.  Use the EFC Calculator to get an estimate of your financial aid eligibility.  Your parents will be glad to know ahead of time what to expect.

Next week – mistakes to avoid when completing your FAFSA!

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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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