College Financial Aid

An essential element of the college process for many families involves financial aid.  Colleges offer three forms of financial aid: grants, loans, and work study. Today most colleges package all three of these forms of aid in one award.  This allows the aid to be distributed to a greater number of families. Grants represent aid that you do not have to pay back and are allocated mainly from the U.S. Department of Education, while some colleges also offer institutional grants.  Loans represent borrowed money that you must repay with interest.  Educational loans come from a variety of sources: the federal government, your individual state government, and banks and other financial institutions.  College Work-Study gives students the opportunity to work while in school.  The college will assist a student in finding a job, usually right on campus.

Need-Based Financial Aid. Students applying for financial aid should be aware of the required deadlines associated with the process.  While there is a standard form that all colleges and universities require (FAFSA), students applying for financial aid should ask each and every college to which they are applying for any information related to financial aid.  In many cases, colleges require applicants to fill out their own institutional forms as well as the standard forms required by the federal government.  Many private colleges use  a form called the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Financial Aid PROFILE.

Once you have determined that you will be applying for any or all forms of aid, you must complete a form called FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  This form allows you to be considered for the following federal financial aid programs:

  • Pell Grants
  • Stafford Loans
  • Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG)
  • Perkins Loans
  • Work-Study

This form is available online at FAFSA.ed.gov. As the title of the form implies, there is no fee required in processing this form.  This form can be filed any time after October 1 (and before January 30) of the student’s senior year.

In addition to the FAFSA, many schools also require the CSS PROFILE mentioned above. While the FAFSA helps schools distribute federal aid, the PROFILE is designed to assist schools in distributing their own private funds. The process behind using the PROFILE includes three steps: Step one includes the filing of a PROFILE registration which students themselves can complete online at www.collegeboard.org. There is a fee required for this step. Upon receipt of this registration, the family will receive a customized application form. Step two includes the completion of the application itself.  As a third step, CSS will send the family an acknowledgment after it has finished processing the complete registration.  The earlier a student registers for the PROFILE the better.  CSS advises registering four to six weeks before the earliest application deadline.  Students and their families need to be vigilant about required information and should file forms as soon as possible. The CSS PROFILE is available online after October 1.

The federal government (through the use of the FAFSA) will determine your financial need by estimating what you and your family can reasonably be expected to contribute toward your education. This figure is referred to as your “Expected Family Contribution (EFC).” If you file your FAFSA online, your EFC will be calculated immediately upon completion of the form.  Please understand that some colleges make their own EFC calculations that can be more or less generous than the Federal EFC calculation.

You must identify the colleges to which you would like this information sent (there is a section for this on the FAFSA).  The individual colleges’ financial aid offices will then determine how much aid they can offer you, and what form that aid will take.  Not all colleges can promise to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need.  However, they will do as much as they can to work with you. Please consult financial aid offices directly before, during, and after the application process to make sure that they have all of the information they need from you.

Prior-Prior: As of October 2016 (for the 2017-2018 FAFSA) students and families will report income information from two years prior, which in this case is 2015 income information, which is two tax years before the beginning of the year the student enters college. This policy change is designed to help families by bringing more certainty to the process and eliminating the need to estimate the previous years’ income and tax information in January of the admissions cycle (usually before the W-2’s and various tax information is in hand for many students and families).

State Scholarship Programs: Most states have their own scholarship programs to which all state residents may apply, in addition to any federal funds you may receive. 

Merit-based financial aid is determined by academic merit and comes from college sponsored scholarships and non-profit or corporate scholarships.  Students usually receive a merit-based scholarship notification with their admission decision, or shortly after. 

Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program: The Bright Futures Scholarship Program offers two awards for high school students who earn an academic diploma.

  1. The Florida Medallion Scholars Award (FMS)
    • GPA: 3.0 Weighted 15 college preparatory credits.
    • Test Scores: Best Composite score of 1170 (SAT CR and Math) or 26 ACT
  2. The Florida Academic Scholars Award (FAS)
    • GPA: 3.5 Weighted 15 college preparatory credits.
    • Test Scores:  Best Composite score of 1290 (SAT CR and Math) or 29 ACT
    • Community Service:  100 Hours during grades 9-12.

Financial Aid References

You need to be your own best advocate when applying for financial aid, and you must educate yourself as to what forms of aid are out there.

  • Getting Financial Aid by the College Board
  • Scholarship Handbook by the College Board
  • Paying for College Without Going Broke by Princeton Review and Kalman Chany
  • Right College, Right Price: The New System for Discovering the Best College Fit at the Best Price by Frank Palmasani
  • 101 Tips for Maximizing College Financial Aid: Definitive Guide to Completing FAFSA byAlice Orzechowski, CPA,CME
  • College Planning for Busy Parents: A Guide to Affordable Colleges, Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Tax Saving by Troy Onink

Financial Aid Websites:

  • Finaid.org (an in-depth guide to student financial aid and services
  • Fafsa.ed.org
  • Fastweb.com (free scholarship search engine)
  • Salliemae.com (information on various loan programs)
  • Collegeanswer.com (includes financial aid calculator)
  • Profileonline.collegeboard.com (CSS Profile)