At this point, let’s assume you have either mailed out your college applications for fall 2018, or are planning on sending them out soon. As of now, at least 150 schools have closed their application deadlines for the fall term and around 260 schools are still accepting applications. So it’s not time to panic yet if you are behind. …but the clock is definitely ticking.
Now, let’s jump ahead to your next major hurdle: Securing financial assistance.
If you are a parent, you may be in for a shock, as costs have skyrocketed in recent years. Thirty years ago, students attending public four-year institutions paid an average of just $3,190 in annual tuition while private students paid $15,160. Since that time, costs have risen by 213 percent and 129 percent, respectively.
Unfortunately, tuition—which can vary depending on your major—is only part of the total cost of college. You will also have to pay for housing, meals, books and supplies as well as heavy fees for library, transportation, athletic, laboratory and other types of services.
The estimated full-time undergraduate budgets for the 2017-2018 school year are as follows:
- Public two-year, in district (commuter): $17,580
- Public four-year, in state (on-campus): $25,290
- Public four-year, out of state (on-campus): $40,940
- Private nonprofit four-year (on-campus): $50,900
The figures speak for themselves; paying for college is no small undertaking so it’s critical to have a thorough understanding of the financial aid process. As the College Board explains, many students who qualify for financial aid fail to receive it simply because they do not fill out the required forms.
Families are strongly encouraged to explore government financial aid packages first, as well as any scholarships, as private student loans are typically more expensive. Most families choose to use private loans to supplement their government aid.
Here is a breakdown of the most common types of forms you will need to know about when applying for financial aid:
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): All students applying for aid from the U.S. government must fill out the FAFSA in order to determine their eligibility for assistance. The FAFSA itself is not a loan, but rather a preliminary application that will let you know what loans, scholarships, grants and work-study programs you qualify for. This is the only financial aid document that students must complete when applying for Title IV federal aid (federally funded aid such as Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loans.).
Each state has a different deadline for filling out the FAFSA. A complete breakdown for the 2018-2019 school year can be found here. The Department of Education recommends that even if your state and school deadlines aren’t coming up soon, you should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. Some institutions and states run out of financial aid early, and have limited funding available. If you wait until the last minute to apply, you may not get the maximum amount.
State-specific forms: Certain states also choose to supplement the FAFSA with their own financial aid programs. These forms serve a variety of different purposes. Some, for instance, are for undocumented students who cannot apply for financial aid, while others are for state-specific scholarships and grants. Vermont, for example, offers the Vermont Incentive Grant for Vermont residents who want to enroll as full-time students; Oregon offers the OSAC Scholarship Application which allows students to browse from a catalogue of 500 different scholarships; and New York offers NY TAP Grants for tuition assistance.
Check in with your state’s education department as soon as possible so that you don’t miss out on opportunities to enhance your federal assistance.
College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile: Some schools may require you to fill out the College Board’s CSS Profile, which is a digital application used by over 400 institutions to grant financial assistance from sources other than the federal government. Each year, the CSS Profile distributes more than $9 billion of aid to students.
The College Board recommends that you start this process at least two weeks before the earliest scholarship or college priority application date you are trying to meet. The cost is $25 for an initial college or scholarship program, and $16 for each additional report.
More information is available here.
Institutional forms: In addition to the FAFSA, CSS Profile and state forms that you will have to fill out, you may also be asked to provide supplemental financial aid forms in order to receive private or institutional funding. Some schools choose to use their own institutional forms instead of the CSS Profile.
These forms tend to be very detailed, and may inquire about a student’s employment history, or religious affiliation. Oftentimes, they include opportunities to provide detailed explanations not adequately filed in the FAFSA like medical expenses, job loss or dependent care costs.
Each school will have its own specific deadlines for filling out these forms.
If there is one thing that cannot be stressed enough, it’s the importance of looking into grants and scholarships, which the Federal Student Aid office defines as “free money to help pay for college or career school.” Scholarships and grants can be awarded by the federal government, your state government, your school or a private or nonprofit organization. Funding can range from as little as $100 to full tuition reimbursement.
There are thousands of scholarships and grants to explore. To get started, check out the Federal Student Aid’s Office directory of federal grants.