Top 5 Financial Aid Secrets
How to get financial aid for college, scholarships and more.
Nervous about the cost of higher education? Understanding how financial aid works is one of the most important steps you can take when it comes to figuring out a way to afford college tuition. Read on to learn about how colleges and universities award financial aid packages, and what you can do to improve your chances of getting scholarships and other types of financial aid for college.
5. Colleges Compete for Undergraduates
You might improve your odds of getting financial aid by applying to several universities that draw from the same pool of applicants - but then again, you might not. Some colleges and universities look at a student's financial aid application - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)- and calculate their financial aid packages based on what other schools they've applied to. Saint Louis University isn't one of them.
Although 95 percent of first-time freshman receive financial aid, SLU considers only academic merit, financial need, a student's aptitude and performance, what high school they attended and any siblings that are also enrolled at the university. Ultimately, incoming freshmen have to decide if a slightly better financial aid offer outweighs the quality of the undergraduate education at another university with a higher price tag, says SLU admissions counselor Mark Steinlage.
4. Your College Major Can Affect Your Scholarship
Scholarships are often available for college students with in-demand athletic, academic, or musical skills, but there are also federal financial aid, grants and university aid packages designed to encourage undergraduates to go into specific majors.
Colleges and universities also place a premium on diversity and sometimes use attractive financial aid packages to encourage people of particular ethnic backgrounds or genders to apply. For example, an engineering college might hope to increase the percentage of women in its programs. But a growing number of universities have the opposite problem, with far more prospective female undergraduate students than than male. According to the American Council on Education, just 43 percent of all current college students are men!
3. Financial Aid Packages Are Flexible.
If your parents' job woes or a family medical emergency have you worried about where your undergraduate college tuition is going to come from, remember that the government reevaluates your financial need level every year when you fill out your FAFSA form. So if your twin kid sisters are starting their freshman year when you're still a junior...that will definitely be taken into consideration.
2. Universities Want the Best Undergraduates
This isn't really a secret, but you can use this fact to maximize your chances of getting a good financial aid offer. Apply to at least one college or university where your grades and ACT or SAT scores put you in the top 25 percent of the school's undergraduate student body. A college that thinks of you as the "cream of the crop" might offer you a financial aid package that's too good to pass up.
Of course, financial aid and scholarships aren't the only consideration when you're choosing a college. SLU's Steinlage cautions students to take a long-term view when making their decision. "Don't be blinded by the money and let that be the only deciding factor," he says.
1. Go Online to Get a Financial Aid Preview
The FAFSA4Caster lets you "test drive" the form colleges and universities use to determine how much tuition your family can afford to pay. Plug different financial scenarios into the form and you'll get an estimate of what the federal government thinks your family will be able to contribute to your college tuition. Colleges and universities use the difference between their tuition and this amount to determine your financial need.
When it comes to paying for higher education, no one set of advice is going to fit every student. Every family's situation is different. When in doubt, it's a good idea to consult with a certified financial advisor with expertise in college planning strategies.