Financial Aid Basics for New High School Seniors

The senior year of high school can be a roller coaster of emotions. While it is great to finally be the oldest students on campus and have a lot more freedom in your personal life, your circle of friends may be going separate ways in the not too distant future. You also have to make many serious decisions about college in the same relatively short period of time. You want to pick a college that will suit your academic and social needs, but also balance that against the reality of what your family can afford.

Money you use for college can come from several sources. Depending on your family’s financial situation, a good chunk of the costs may be covered by financial aid from the federal government, your state, and the college itself. The balance of any college costs must then be covered using your savings accounts, scholarships and student loans from the federal government or private lenders like College Ave.

To get you started on the right track to financial success, here are a few financial aid basics for high school seniors:

Know your application types

There are admissions applications, such as the Common App, and then there are different types of financial aid applications. The most common type is the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, but there is also another often-used application called the CSS Profile. Some colleges have their own forms, or ask you to provide supplemental information beyond the FAFSA or CSS Profile. Check each college’s financial aid web page to determine exactly what information is required.

Learn the difference between “advertised” cost and net cost

As you begin to look at some of the college’s web sites you might feel a little overwhelmed by some of the “advertised” costs, but take a closer look at what is really involved. While a college might state that their tuition, room and board typically cost “x” amount, you also want to learn what the typical student pays when financial aid is taken into consideration. This is called the net cost. Some colleges will have a net cost calculator right on their website where you provide a few details about your financial situation, and receive an estimate of what your costs might be after financial aid.

Study the types of financial aid

It is important that you understand the different types of financial aid. Anything that is referred to as a grant or scholarship does not usually have to be repaid, unless you fail to meet their eligibility criteria. Some “expensive” colleges offer very generous scholarship packages to students who have academic, athletic or artistic capabilities. Another type of financial aid is the federal work-study program. This is where you are required to work a certain amount of time during the academic year in order to earn money towards your education. When you receive financial aid award letters look very closely for terms such as Direct Subsidized Loan, Direct Unsubsidized Loan, or PLUS loan. This is money you are borrowing, and will be expected to repay after graduation. The remaining amount after all these items are subtracted from costs is your expected family contribution.

Chart those deadlines

You may know that there are several types of admissions deadlines – early action, early decision, regular and rolling – but there are also several types of financial aid deadlines. Failure to apply in a timely manner could result in loss of valuable funding. Even though the FAFSA does not have to be completed until later in the year some programs have limited funding available, so it is best to apply as early as possible. And be sure to check the deadlines for financial aid in your state as well as at your colleges, as those might come up much earlier in your senior year than expected. Keep an eye out for scholarship deadlines as they can also provide a nice source of additional funding.

It can be a little overwhelming, so high school students should try to do something college-oriented every day, have open and honest communications with their parents, and don’t get their heart set on one specific college.


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