FAQs about College Admissions & Financial Aid
All requests for testing accommodations are handled by the school’s Learning Specialist Kamauru Johnson and should be sent to Kamauru as soon as possible. Students who receive accommodations in school DO NOT automatically receive accommodations on their college entrance exams.
The SAT and ACT are administered by two different organizations and have separate and independent application and review processes. It is possible to be approved for accommodations on one test but not the other.
‘Financial aid’ generally refers to resources provided by the federal/state government or the college/university a student is attending, to help the student and his or her family meet the costs of attendance at a given college. This is in addition to the family’s own financial resources (income, savings, etc.), and scholarships or other monetary awards that a student might receive from outside groups such as corporations and non-profit organizations.
A scholarship is a type of financial aid—but there are others, too. Aid can come in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans (and yes—loans are considered aid, even though you have to pay them back). Most students who apply for aid receive a ‘financial aid package’ that includes a combination of several types of aid.
All financial aid is either need-based or merit-based. Need-based aid is awarded, as the name suggests, based on a family’s financial need. Merit-based aid is awarded to students based on certain criteria, such as high grades and test scores, athletic or artistic ability, or achievement in any number of personal or extracurricular areas. Merit based aid is generally awarded without regard to the family’s financial situation—for instance, a talented athlete from a well-off family may be eligible for athletic scholarships even though she has no financial need. (However, some merit-based scholarships do have income eligibility requirements.)
Need-based aid is intended to lessen the difference between the full cost of attendance (meaning tuition, room and board, and other expenses) at the student’s college of choice, and what the family can afford to pay for college. There is no income cutoff for need-based aid—each family’s financial situation will be evaluated individually to determine what the family can afford to contribute (this amount is called the “Expected Family Contribution,” or EFC). Sometimes even families with high incomes are eligible for aid, depending on their expenses and the cost of the college their child is attending. The amount of aid your family is eligible for is based on the difference between the EFC and the cost of attendance at a given college.
To determine your EFC and apply for aid, you will need to fill out one or more forms. Everyone must fill out the FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This can be completed online, any time after January 1 of the year the student will be entering college. The FAFSA results determine eligibility for all forms of federal government aid, including Pell Grants, Perkins and Stafford Loans, etc. For an estimate of your family’s EFC, click here.
Some colleges use the EFC from the FAFSA to award their institutional aid, but many private colleges calculate the expected family contribution using a different, more detailed form, called the CSS Profile. This can also be completed online.
Some colleges also require their own forms—it is important to carefully read the instructions for applying for financial aid on each college’s website!
State/Federal aid: Government aid for undergraduates, with very few exceptions, is based only on need.
Institutional aid: Not all colleges offer merit-based institutional aid. In fact, many of the most selective colleges in the country, including the members of the Ivy League, offer only need-based aid. Colleges with Division I or II sports may offer athletic scholarships—but Division III schools are prohibited from offering any form of athletic scholarship. Families should read the financial aid websites of the colleges their child is applying to, to find out if they offer merit-based aid, and if so, what types, and what the application procedures are.
Some colleges automatically consider all applicants for any available merit awards, while others require separate applications. As with everything related to financial aid, it is in your best interest to apply as early as possible to have the best chance of receiving aid, and to be certain of not missing any important deadlines.
Other forms of aid: The kind of non-institutional aid that you are probably most familiar with is private scholarship programs. These scholarships are usually awarded in recognition of some kind of achievement (academic, artistic, etc.), or because of membership in a particular group or population (children of veterans, for example).
When your child is accepted at a college, if you have submitted all the required aid application forms by the stated deadlines, you will receive a financial aid award letter detailing the costs of attendance at that particular college, and the types and amounts of aid being offered to the student (the “package”). You will have an opportunity to compare the aid packages from all of the colleges where your child has been admitted before having to make an enrollment decision, and you may even be able to negotiate with the colleges to get more aid.
A typical student’s financial aid package may include a combination of different types of aid, both need-based and merit-based, including government loans and grants, institutional scholarships and/or grants, and work-study. Any outside scholarships the student has earned will not be included in the package, but can be applied toward the family’s contribution. (Note: in some cases, outside scholarship awards will be considered as income and may therefore reduce the student’s eligibility for need-based aid. Questions about this should be directed to the colleges’ financial aid offices.) Of course, a package with more aid that doesn’t need to be repaid (grants and scholarships) is better than one with more loans—it is important to read the fine print about your child’s aid package before making any final decisions.
The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program is a need-based form of aid in which students are offered relatively well-paid part-time employment on campus during the school year. (Typical jobs include shelving books in the library, serving food in the cafeteria, answering phones in a department office, etc.) A portion of the student’s wages are paid by the federal government. The student can keep his or her earnings, which are intended to be applied towards education-related expenses such as books, transportation, etc.
These two terms are generally interchangeable, and refer to “gift” aid that does not have to be repaid. Grants and scholarships can be given by the government, by the college, or by outside sources such as non-profit organizations, corporations, etc.
Loans provide funding for college that must be paid back, with interest, to the lender. Educational loans can come from private sources (such as a bank), or more commonly, from the federal government. Federal student loans can come in two types, subsidized and unsubsidized. With subsidized loans, the government pays the interest on the loan while the student is in school. With unsubsidized loans, interest starts to accrue as soon as the loan is disbursed.