How do I Find Out if a College Offers Financial Assistance?

Perhaps the most important consideration for many students is whether financial assistance is offered by their chosen college. According to Bloomberg, tuition costs have increased by 538% since 1985, making the financial challenge of affording college one of the most pressing concerns for college students today. Students want to go to college; however, they also don’t want to be saddled with a lifetime of debt for getting their degree.

The FAFSA

All students considering financial assistance from a college should start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Completion of this form is the primary tool that both the government and schools will use to determine a student’s financial assistance. The form asks questions regarding household size, income and education plans and then produces a report which is sent to prospective schools to establish eligibility and aid amount. On the form, the student will be asked about various types of financial assistance that may be available to them, such as grants, loans and work study. On the FAFSA, the student should select all forms of aid which they can reasonably complete, as more detailed options regarding the aid package will be given later. Generally, each school will mail the student a statement showing their award package and comparing those letters can be an excellent tool for determining the total cost of attendance.

Reviewing the School’s Website

Once the student has completed the FAFSA, the next step is to review aid options offered by their school. For this step, the best place to start is with the school’s website. Since the cost of college is a deciding factor for many students, there is generally a link for Tuition and Fees and for Financial Aid on the homepage. Students should review both of these pages to assess cost. Reviewing the tuition and fees page will help the student to see how much they will realistically pay for their college education, as well as costs of housing and additional fees. The Financial Aid page will typically outline how many students receive aid each semester as well as outline the types of aid that might be available. Another option is to visit a site such as Big Future which allows users to compare the costs of up to three schools side by side.

Outside Sources

This is a great time to review scholarships as well, as those can drastically reduce the cost of college. These are normally listed on the Financial Aid portion of a school’s website, with information on eligibility, requirements and deadlines. Schools often offer both merit-based scholarships and need-based scholarships. Should the scholarship options at a particular school be limited, there are a number of sites that offer scholarships to a variety of students, such as scholarships.com, which can help find financial assistance outside of what the school may offer.

Determining the financial assistance options offered by a particular college can often be one of the deciding factors in choosing a school, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful topic. A little planning ahead and research can make all the difference in making the choice to go to college an affordable one.

For more information about colleges to attend, please see “The Nation’s 20 Most Affordable Colleges With The Best Graduation Rates“.