Today, a college’s cost is playing a larger-than-ever role in determining what school a student attends. More families are selecting schools based on the best offered value, and not the most prestigious name. Because student enrollment is at a historic high, even students with stellar grades and an application full of extracurricular activities can expect to go through the financial aid process.
After identifying a potential school that is a good fit for you, it is important to investigate the school’s financial aid options. Every university and college will have its own policies over who qualifies for aid, what type of aid is available, and other potential limitations. To be sure you understand the details, here is list of the top 10 questions to ask about financial aid at your school.
- What do I need to do to qualify at your school? It's important to inquire about what forms and applications are necessary to fill out for available financial aid. This includes asking about FAFSA, CSS Profile, and other independent applications. The FAFSA is required by all schools for awarding federal financial aid. As for other sources of aid, many schools will use one form to determine a student’s eligibility for any and all available financial aid, but others will require individual applications for separate awards. Asking about the necessary forms will ensure that you don’t miss out on desirable opportunities.
- Are scholarships renewable? Find out what you will need to do to keep or renew available scholarships. This includes asking about required credit enrollment, expected grade averages, and other potential stipulations.
- What is the average net price? A school’s sticker price often does not reflect its accurate cost for a full or part-time student. Ask your financial aid officer about any extra student fees, average book costs, room and board, and any other add-ons that might otherwise surprise you. Many college’s will offer a net price calculator to help students determine what their true cost of attending will be which assess the total cost of attendance and the average financial aid award for a family like yours.
- How does work-study work? Am I guaranteed a job? Work-study is a federal-subsidized hourly wage grant that may be included as a part of your financial aid package. However, terms may differ between schools and it is important to ask your financial aid officer whether you are certain of a job. Additionally, ask how many hours you can expect to receive per semester. The only real difference between a regular campus job and a work-study job is where the funds come from (the school itself or the federal government).
- Do you have a preferred lender list for non-federal loans? Every college sets its own criteria for what lenders will be on their preferred lender list but not all schools offer a list. Generally, lenders listed tend to offer the least expensive and most comprehensive financial aid options for qualifying students. Asking about a school’s preferred lender list will help you find the best value for your school. But know that if you find a better deal outside of the preferred lender list, you can apply for that opportunity.
- Do you include the PLUS loan on financial aid award letters? Why or why not?
- What is the average amount of debt a student graduates with from this school? Knowing how students fare post-graduation will help you determine whether taking on the extra loans are worth it, and help you craft a long-term strategy.
- Do you know what the average salary is for a graduate of ______ department? In addition to knowing how much debt you might rack up, it is important to know about what your future earnings might be.
- What is the student persistence rate? This is a metric for how many students return from year to year. In other words, how successful is the school at retaining current students? Also, ask about their graduation rates. Graduates are more likely to get better paying jobs than non-graduates.
- What is the school cohort default rate? This is reflection of how well borrowers of federal loans are at repaying their loans. Knowing your school’s cohort default rate can help you determine whether you may experience future financial hardship.
Free help is available for applying for financial aid.
Getting accepted to the college of your choice is often looked upon as a large hurdle for students to jump over. However paying for college can be an even bigger mystery. The truth is, finding the funds to pay for tuition, books, housing, and all the other expenses associated with going to college is hard work. Here are a few tips on how to find grants and scholarships to assist you in paying for college.
Learning about grants and scholarships is one of those college planning essentials that should happen as early as possible. College loans are easy to apply for, however it is essential that students understand the benefits of grants and scholarships before taking a loan.
Grants and scholarships are funds that do not need to be paid back. A grant can be offered through the federal government, state, through your college, or a foundation. Scholarships are often given through your college or high school, community organizations, businesses, foundations, your state, etc. Awarding of grants and scholarships can be based on financial need or through a competitive process. It is important for students to take an aggressive approach to researching what grants and scholarships are best suited for them.
Being organized is one of our top college planning essentials. Try creating a spreadsheet on your computer to help you organize yourself during your grant and scholarship research and application process. Make note of the organization offering the grant or scholarship, deadline for applying, items required for the application, and the date you completed the process. Leave room for notes on any follow-up information you receive after submitting the application. Keeping track of what you have applied for will keep you from being overwhelmed.
Complete the FAFSA and College Based Financial Aid Forms
Most schools make decisions about financial aid based upon information given in the FAFSA. If the FAFSA is not completed, most schools will not be able to award you grants, scholarships, or even loans. Some colleges have their own school based financial aid applications that are completed in addition to the FAFSA. Be sure to check in with your college's financial aid office to make sure you have all the required forms.
Do Your Research
Research for college grants and scholarships can begin as early as junior year in high school. The reason is that the applications can require a number of materials that can take you some time to organize. Furthermore the deadlines for applications and when those funds can be used can differ from one organization to the next. The earlier you start your research process, the better off you will be.
Many students make the mistake of looking only at college grant and scholarship databases on the internet. The truth is that while internet databases may be a great place to start your research, the number of students applying to many of those scholarships and grants make the application process a lot more competitive. Try using your local resources to find grant and scholarship programs where the pool of applicants is sure to be a lot smaller. Visit your local library for books, local online databases, your high school guidance office, and other resources. Ask your parents about scholarships available through their place of work. Community organizations like the Lions Club, Rotary International, places of worship, and even some corporations may have scholarship and grant opportunities worth researching.
The best time to start researching grant and scholarship programs is now. If you have questions about college planning essentials, please contact us.
So you've started the journey of sending your child to college. This might be your first time, or maybe you've done it before. One of the biggest questions in most parents' minds is how they're going to finance their child's higher education. Everyone knows that a college degree opens doors and that college graduates make more money over their lifetimes than people with just a high school diploma do. Maybe you don't think your child qualifies for financial aid. But college planning for parents, and more specifically figuring out how you will foot the tuition bill, doesn't have to be a confusing or stressful process.
Common Misconceptions about Financial Aid
Many people think that applying and qualifying for financial aid is daunting and that it's not worth the time if they won't qualify anyway. Let's clear the process up a little. Put simply, financial aid is based on expected family contribution (EFC) and sometimes (much more rare) on grades.
- EFC: This can vary depending on how much you've saved for your child's education, what your income and assets are, how many children you have attending college at the same time, and so on. You must fill out the FAFSA to see what your EFC is and what kind of financial aid your child is able to receive.
- Grades: Some, but not most, aid is based on need and not on grades. However, if your student has stellar grades, he or she might qualify for scholarships to help supplement need-based aid.
Eligibility for Financial Aid
The truth is, the majority of students qualify for and use some financial aid. Financial need is based on the cost of attendance minus EFC. Cost of attendance takes into account all costs: tuition, books, room and board, and so on.
Filling out the FAFSA
Because so many factors go into determining EFC, many families assume that they don't qualify when they actually do. How many people are in your family, how much you and your child make, even your age factor in.
College planning for parents should start early so your child is ready to enroll before the semester starts and so he or she doesn't have to worry about how college will be paid for. The FAFSA is filled out electronically. There are instructions to guide you every step of the way, and you can find assistance in many places. Filling out the FAFSA is the only way to find out your EFC and what your family qualifies for in the way of aid.
Getting into the right college can seem like a monumental task. There are hundreds of schools in Rhode Island and across the nation accepting candidates for admission. Finding the school that is your best fit and getting accepted is a task that, like finding a great job, requires some planning and forethought. Get organized in your approach, learn as much as you can about the schools you are interested in and the application process.
Some things you need to know:
Start your search with a self evaluation. Ask yourself what schools appeal to you and why. Then, honestly evaluate your abilities and accomplishments as a student. Some schools only accept a limited number of candidates.
Getting accepted means competing with other applicants. Make a list of all the schools you want to apply to and research their requirements for admission. Talk to your guidance counselor about creating a college list and how to effectively promote your candidacy.
A college planning checklist, information lists and charts are your best friends when applying to college. A chart makes it easy to see at a glance which schools you've applied to, what their application deadlines and entrance requirements are. Keeping a detailed list of potential school information helps you when it is time to apply for admission and financial aid.
You don't have to make all of these lists and charts up yourself. The College Planning Center provides free college application trackers in both PDF and Excel formats to make your job easier. You can download this and other useful resources to help get you started.
The time to apply to college arrives and it can seem like a daunting task at first. What colleges should you apply to? How do you know if they will be right for you? You can reduce the amount of stress involved by narrowing your choices in advance. Read on to find out how.
What degree do you want
The first thing you need to decide is what course of study you want to pursue. Not all colleges offer the same degree programs. Eliminating the schools that do not offer your choice of degree is the first step.
Do you want to live at home while attending college or live on campus? If you want a campus experience, how far from home can you go before you feel uncomfortable? Take into account how you will travel on school breaks and holidays.
Do you plan on participating in any sports while in college? If so, you will want to make sure a team is available when you apply to college. What about such clubs as Photography or an active LBGT community on campus? Take into consideration what social activities appeal to you and if they will be available.
How will you pay
College can be expensive. When choosing where to apply, take into account such things as available grants and scholarships. These can make a difference between being able to pay for school or having to skip a semester here and there. It will also determine whether or not you will need a job while also studying.
Divide your list
Once you have picked a number of schools that meet all your criteria, take time to divide the list into schools you know you will be accepted at, schools you are fairly sure of acceptance and schools that might be a bit difficult based on your SAT or ACT scores, class rank, GPA, etc. Once divided, pick the top two to three choices in each category and apply.
You should have anywhere from six to eight schools that fit your criteria. Keep in mind that when you apply to college, you will be spending at least the next four years there, so make sure all those you apply to are schools you can see yourself being happy attending.
Once all your applications have been sent and you have received acceptance letters, you need to choose between those who have accepted your application. Ideally, the school you want most will be among them. If it isn't, you can be sure that any schools that are will be a good fit and place you can be happy attending because you narrowed your choices and only applied to such schools. Pick the one among these that appeals to you the most and get ready for your next life adventure.
An undoubtedly important part your entire college application packet is the essay. This component is integral to many college's decision-making processes for several reasons. One, it shows the representatives on the college’s admissions board that you are able to put your thoughts together – through the written word – in an organized, creative, and grammatically-correct manner; it demonstrates you have a grasp of the English language. Second, the essay is the only time other than the in-person interview where you have the opportunity to share some personal and interesting information; the essay is the place to show the admissions office your personality. Third, the essay can significantly separate you from all the other student candidates vying for acceptance into the college; it’s the opportunity for you to show how you will fit in with the college culture and be an asset to the school.
The Components of an Amazing College Essay.
Now for the seemingly-hard part – actually writing the essay. If you break the writing process down into steps, it won’t be as overwhelming for you. You’ll then easily be able to work on the different components of it at a time instead of trying to craft the whole essay in one sitting. Along with making your essay personal and distinctly your own, there are several necessary parts to writing an amazing college essay that you will want to include: the opening line, the introduction, the paragraphs in the body of the essay, and the conclusion.
The opening line.
Start your essay with a direct and captivating line. One of our favorite essays from last year started with the simple phrase, "I have a passion for writing." Another example from Johns Hopkins University starts, "I have a blue seventh place athletic ribbon hanging on my mantel." This approach hints at the personality of the writer (humorous) and makes us want to read more ("what does the reader think about that blue seventh place ribbon?) If you are having trouble coming up with a good opening line, try researching meaningful and relevant quotes by famous classic writers, world-renowned scientists, or any other highly-respected and well-known non-controversial individual. Use that quote as inspiration for your opening line. Or you may even choose to incorporate it into your essay.
Now that you have the first sentence written for your intro, you have the opportunity to continue telling your story. Write a few sentences that elaborate on your opening line and think about how those following lines fit into the big theme of your essay. The following lines in the blue ribbon example cited above are, "Every day, as I walk into my living room, the award mockingly congratulates me as I smile. Ironically, the blue seventh place ribbon resembles the first place ribbon in color; so, if I just cover up the tip of the seven, I may convince myself that I championed the fourth heat. But, I never dare to wipe away the memory of my seventh place swim; I need that daily reminder of my imperfection. I need that seventh place."
These are the paragraphs that really explain who you are and further solidify what you wrote about in your introduction. Perhaps you’ve rescued animals your whole life and want to earn a degree in Veterinary Science. Maybe the college to which you are applying is the same one your mom attended. Or, maybe you will be the first person in your family to go to college. Whatever you choose to share – make it succinct and keep it personal. Your essay should not simply be a repeat of the information you shared on your application.
Here you restate the gist of your essay. The conclusion of the Johns Hopkins example states: "So, the blue seventh place ribbon sits there, on my mantel, for the world to see. I feel no shame in that. In fact, my memorable 20 laps mean more to me than an award because over time, the blue of the seventh place ribbon fades, and I become more colorful by embracing my imperfections and gaining resilience-but not athleticism."
If you need some help reviewing your essay, make an appointment with the College Planning Center of Rhode Island.
The cost of college is rising every year. But even as the sticker price goes up, discounts in the form of grants, scholarships and tuition waivers are also increasing. Planning your child’s college funding is not just a matter of putting money into savings. Considering you might be expected to pay $23,000 a year or more in out-of-pocket expenses for your teenager’s college tuition, fees, books, room and board, you may find saving that much to be an onerous task - and for good reason. Thankfully, you have a lot of options right at your fingertips, if you are adequately prepared.
Federal Financial Aid
The first task you should accomplish is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form goes over the student’s financial situation and that of his/her parents. It's always a good idea to set aside some time with your teenager to complete this form together. The government expects that you will contribute to your teenager’s college education plans. Before you fill out the application, have these documents handy:
- Social Security number
- Federal tax returns and income information for all parties (student and parents)
- Records of any other income
- Bank statements
To make the process easier, the U.S. Department of Education allows you to obtain a PIN number that you and your student can use to sign documents electronically. It can take a few days to receive your pin, so you will want to request one in advance. The FAFSA process will determine if your student will be eligible for all federal grants (and some college grants), which are funds for education that you do not have to pay back. Even if s/he is not, the federal government offers a number of student loans. Your child may be eligible for subsidized loans, which accrue no interest as long as s/he is registered with a minimum number of units. But there are also unsubsidized loans, available for students and their parents.
Non-Federal Financial Aid
Some colleges also require that you complete a College Scholarship Services (CSS) PROFILE or an institutional financial aid form. The PROFILE is administered by the College Board, and is intended to give greater information to private institutions about your finances. The CSS profile application requires more detailed information than the FAFSA, with specifics about income and expenses for both students and their parents. You will need all the information you readied for the FAFSA, and also some data about how you plan to file for the current year. The benefit to completing a CSS profile is that you can use a single form to apply for non-federal financial aid and scholarships from over 400 various colleges and universities. The CSS profile does charge a fee. It is $25 to complete the profile and send it to one college or university of your choice. If you request a report sent to any subsequent colleges or universities, the cost is $16 and may be elected at any time.
These major national systems are the easiest way to open up the world of financial aid for you and your student. But do not forget to look locally. For the schools your child selected for applications, arrange to speak to a counselor or a financial aid administrator. They may know of scholarships and grants that are local to the community or the school itself. They may also be able to make specific recommendations based on your student’s demographic and school record.
Whenever you have questions about obtaining financial aid for your teenager, you should always ask for help. Visit the College Planning Center of Rhode Island for more information and advice for your family.
When it comes to getting an education that prepares you for career success, colleges in Rhode Island have programs that will position you at the top. They feature highly-rated curriculums in some of the more in-demand fields of today, providing a solid foundation for your future. Here are some options to consider if you’re applying to college in Rhode Island.
- As a member of the prestigious Ivy League, Brown University has long maintained a reputation for academic innovation and excellence. It’s no surprise that in the cutting-edge field of Computer Science they regularly rank in the top 20 national programs. Their multidisciplinary approach allows students to select concentrations in related areas such as economics and computational biology. Thanks to Brown’s unique emphasis on research, undergraduates have unparalleled opportunities to participate and even co-author papers. Their Women in Computer Science group features mentoring and outreach programs to increase female participation.
- Right next door to Brown is Rhode Island School of Design with its highly acclaimed Fine Arts program. Majors are available on undergrad and graduate levels in a variety of media including film/animation/video, photography and sculpture. Students participate in internships with high-profile, creative organizations such as Google, Disney, Martha Stewart, Cartoon Network, and Museum of Modern Art. The school also has a reciprocal arrangement with their neighbor wherein students may cross-register for classes and have access to Brown’s academic and athletic facilities. RISD has an enviable job placement rate, with 96 percent of alumni finding employment within a year of graduating.
- Established in 1854 as a normal school, Rhode Island College has grown into a comprehensive institution but still maintains its excellent School of Education and Human Development. The program has been accredited by the National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education since 1954, most recently confirmed in 2012. Degree programs cover the entire spectrum from elementary and secondary to specialized areas such as technology, art and music. If college costs are a factor for you, approximately 70 percent of incoming RIC freshmen have been awarded need-based aid. In recent years students completing the program here have had a 100 percent success rate in passing state licensing tests.
- If you’ve already decided on a career path, you may feel right at home at Johnson & Wales University. Students begin taking courses in their chosen major immediately, rather than spending their first two years exploring options as is the case at many liberal arts schools. As food-related careers have become more popular and sophisticated, the spotlight has focused on their College of Culinary Arts. Celebrity chefs and television stars Emeril Lagasse, Tyler Florence and Chris Cosentino received their training at JWU. The program also incorporates a multidisciplinary approach enabling students to develop their business and management skills.
Whether your dreams include one of these fields or other areas of study, our state's colleges have a program that can help you achieve them. The College Planning Center can offer free guidance in considering all your options, including scholarships in Rhode Island. Make your appointment today.
- A business degree can open doors to a multitude of career options. Bryant University’s College of Business has been ranked in the top ten percent of accredited schools by Bloomberg Business Week. Five departments offer concentrations in fields such as accounting and computer information systems, while the recently instituted major in global supply chain management prepares students for the exciting and competitive international marketplace.
Yesterday, the College Board released its annual Trends in Higher Education series, providing information on student financial aid, tuition, and other higher education expenses in three reports: Trends in College Pricing, Trends in Student Aid, and Education Pays.
Trends in College Pricing
The Trends in College Pricing report provides information on trends in undergraduate tuition and fees, room and board, and other expenses with data through 2013-14. Key findings include:
- "The 2.9% increase in in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions in 2013-14 followed increases of 4.5% in 2012-13 and 8.5% in 2011-12 and was the smallest percentage increase in over 30 years.
- Among full-time undergraduates at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions, the median published tuition and fee price in 2013-14 is $11,093.
- Because of increases in aid, the average net price for full-time in-state public four-year college students was $650 lower (in 2013 dollars) in 2009-10 than it was in 2008-09. However, between 2009-10 and 2013-14, average net price increased from $1,940 (in 2013 dollars) to about $3,120.
- Between 2010 and 2011, enrollment grew by 123,000 (2%) in the public four-year sector and by 66,000 (2%) in the private nonprofit four-year sector. Enrollment in public two-year colleges was 159,000 (2%) lower in 2011 than it had been the previous year; it was 68,000 (3%) lower in the for-profit sector.
- Average incomes for families in the middle quintile and above increased between 2011 and 2012, but real incomes remained lower (after adjusting for inflation) at all levels of the income distribution than they had been in 2002.”
Trends in Student Aid
The Trends in Student Aid report provides information on grant aid, loans, tax benefits, Federal Work-Study Assistance, and examines changes in funding levels and distribution over time. Key findings include:
- "In 2012-13, undergraduate students received 52% of their funding in the form of grants, 39% as loans (including nonfederal loans), and 9% in a combination of tax credits or deductions and Federal Work-Study. For graduates, these percentages were 30%, 64%, and 6%, respectively.
- Total education borrowing fell by 6% in real terms between 2011-12 and 2012-13.
- Total federal student loans and parent loans plus nonfederal loans had declined by 2% between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
- Total borrowing from the federal Direct Loan program fell by 3% ($2.9 billion) in 2011-12 and by another 7% ($6.5 billion) in 2012-13. Total borrowing from the PLUS program for parents of undergraduate students fell by 11% ($13 billion) over these two years.
- In 2012-13, undergraduate borrowers took federal loans averaging $6,760, while graduate students borrowed an average of $17,230.
- Nonfederal education loans grew from an estimated $10.5 billion (in 2012 dollars) in 2002-03 to $25.5 billion in 2007-08. Since then, student loan volume from banks, credit unions, states, and institutions has declined to about $8.8 billion.
- The percentage of undergraduate students taking private education loans fell from 14% in 2007-08 to 6% in 2011-12; the percentage of graduate students relying on this source f funds fell from 11% to 4%.
- About 60% of students who earned bachelor's degrees in 2011-12 from the public and private nonprofit institutions at which they began their studies graduated with debt. They borrowed an average of $26,500.
- In 2012, 40% of borrowers with outstanding education debt owed less than $10,000 and another 30% owed between $10,000 and $25,000; 4% of borrowers owed $100,000 or more. This debt increased borrowing for both undergraduate and graduate studies.
- In 2013, 1.6 million federal Direct Loan borrowers were in repayment plans that limit their payments to a specified percentage of their incomes. These borrowers constituted 11% of those in repayment plans, and they held 22% of the total outstanding debt in repayment plans.
- By September 11, 2012, 10% of borrowers who entered repayment in 2010-11 had defaulted on their federal student loans. This was the highest two-year cohort default rate in FY 1995, but the default rates were 21% and 22% in 1989 and 1990, respectively.
- In 2012-13, 49% of all student aid was in the form of grants—the highest percentage over the past decade. In 2008-09, 44% of student aid was grant aid.
The number of students receiving Pell Grants increased from 4.0 million in 1992-93 to 4.8 million in 2002-03 and to 8.8 million in 2012-13.”
The Education Pays report examines the ways in which individuals and society benefit from higher education, providing information on earnings and employment patterns, financial benefits, and indicators of well-being. In addition, the College Board released, "How College Shapes Lives: Understanding the Issues,” which builds on information presented in Education Pays. Key findings from each include:
- "Median earnings of bachelor's degree recipients with no advanced degree working full time in 2011 were $56,500, $21,100 more than median earnings of high school graduates. Individuals with some college but no degree earned 14% more than high school graduates working full time. Their median after-tax earnings were 13% higher.
The 2012 unemployment rate for four-year college graduates ages 25 to 34 was 7.1 percentage points below that for high school graduates. The unemployment rates for those with associate degrees and with some college but no degree were 4.0 and 1.6 percentage points below that for high school graduates, respectively.
- Educational attainment rates are increasing, but college completion rates and attainment patterns differ considerably across demographic groups.
- Postsecondary education relies more on private funding in the U.S. than in most other developed countries.
- Relatively few students actually borrow excessive amounts to fund their undergraduate education, and the majority of students have earnings that allow them to repay their debts.
- The reality that many students enroll but do not complete credentials is central to understanding the costs and benefits of postsecondary education. On average, while there is high payoff to completion, even ‘some college' generates financial benefits."
Source: College Board and Education Financial Council, EFC Exchange, 10/23/2013
College planning for parents is one of the most important parts of being a parent in today's world. An education can equip your child for the next step in life, and should be seen as an investment. That being said, there are some tips every parent should keep in mind while looking for last minute ways to save for college. Here are some ways you can save money and help give your child the education he/she needs.
1. Rethink schooling options - If you cannot afford to send your child to an expensive private school, then don't. Each school has its own strengths, and a schoole choice should be made based on career ambitions and learning needs.
2. Take advantage of Stafford loans - Every family should take advantage of low-interest Stafford loans. These loans are specially tailored to make college more affordable. The Stafford loan does not require "means testing" which means that a family is eligible whether it makes $200,000 or $30,000 dollars a year. However, whether you receive a subsidized or unsubsidized version will depend on your family's financial need. Stafford loans usually have lower interest rates than private loans, at a rate of 3.86% this year. More importantly there is no out of pocket costs to the student or the parents.
3. Use American Opportunity Tax Credit - If your family has an income of less than $160,000 per year, or $80,000 if filing as a single person, you can get a $2,500 tax credit for things like school supplies, equipment, and books. This is really great because this things are not necessarily covered in the cost of tuition.
4. Compare your alternative loan options, if you need one - Taking out a loan my seem less than ideal, but it is still a viable option for many people. Be careful when you look at these loans since they could have variable rates, which means the interest rate could spike. However, several state-based programs are available with low fixed rates and flexible terms.
5. Apply for scholarships - Many scholarship deadlines are not until just a few weeks before the semester starts. This could be the best unexpected part of college planning for parents since some scholarships could cover up to half or more of a year's tuition (depending on the scholarship and where your child attend college) or at least the cost of living expenses and books. Make sure your student applies to as many scholarships as possible. The worst thing that can happen is he or she will get denied.
Follow this five simple tips and you will be able to save money, but more important, you will have the peace of mind knowing that your student is taken care of financially and intellectually.