College is a wonderful part of every young person’s life: it is where their passions are discovered and honed, where they make life-lasting friendships, where many meet their future spouse, and where they are shaped into the person that they were always meant to be.
Unfortunately colleges are both a business and, nowadays, a necessity. These two facts mean that colleges can up their fees and lower their aid with little or no consequences.
More often than not, colleges convince students to choose them by offering grants, discounts, and scholarships and then up their tuition and lower their aid each year.
So how do colleges get away with this?
- Colleges normally issue “need based” scholarships. Meaning they only give the scholarships to those students whose family makes below a certain income.
- The average American family goes through the same changes during a student’s college years:
– one child in the family graduates from college
– one parent gets a raise, second job, bonus, or promotion
These two changes mean “higher income” for the family in the eyes of FASFA, meaning colleges can lower or eliminate their aid.
While this information may be disheartening, there are a few steps you can take to prevent this from happening to you.
1. Learn all you can regarding financial aid methodology.
It is important to learn how your family’s current and future circumstances effect financial aid, for example:
- having multiple kids in college vs. one kid in college
- retirement vs. non-retirement savings
This way you won’t have any surprises.
Troy Onink and Mark Kantrowitz have written excellent sources to start your financial aid research.
2. Carefully read your initial financial aid letter, making sure to understand every aspect of it.
It is important you understand two things when reading you financial aid letter:
- How much money you are getting via grant, loan, and work/study money.
– These are often presented together as one large sum.
- If you are getting merit-based (you need a certain GPA to get the money) or need-based financial aid.
3. Research your college options to see their financial aid practices.
Using collegenavigator.com, you can view how much money colleges grant freshman versus how much money they grant all undergraduates (keep in mind this number includes freshman as well). This will give you an idea as to whether or not your college choices drop/lower financial aid as students become sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
4. Apply for scholarships and grants from outside programs every year.
If your college allows outside financial aid (without eliminating or reducing the aid they are giving you), you should apply for it as well. Keep in mind that they aren’t all just for freshman, so you can apply for financial aid throughout all four years of your college career. Remember that every scholarship or grant is more free money for you and free money is never a bad option.
5. Plan for tuition increases.
Tuition will always increase… while financial aid most likely will not. Therefore, you need to plan for a steady increase in payments over your four years.
If you would like to read more in-depth information, please read the Forbes article “How to Avoid the Disappearing College Financial Aid Trap”. If you have questions regarding these tips, financial aid, or FASFA, please call our office at 314-993-4285 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org