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.