Imagine this: You are hanging out with your friends over the weekend to celebrate the end of a long week. Even though you are (finally!) a second semester senior, all of your academics and extracurriculars still mentally and physically drain you. Out of impulse, you decide to check your phone, and you see that your dream school sent you an email to check your portal. Curious, you choose to check your portal right then and there, and you scream as you see the letters spelling out the word “Congratulations.” Then reality hits you: you forgot to apply for financial aid, and you haven’t done any scholarships. How are you going to pay for college?
Don’t want to be the person in the above scenario? Confused about the financial aid package on your portal? Read below!
Need Based Aid– As the name implies, need-based aid is based on the amount of money (income) and resources (land, housing, etc.) that a family has.
- FAFSA– Short for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA allows students and parents to apply for government aid online. Personally, the FAFSA did not take long for me to fill out, as it required more input (and stress) from my parents than from me.
- CSS Profile– The CSS (College Scholarship Service) PROFILE is College Board’s financial aid application. It is only required by most private schools. Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile is used to determine eligibility for non-government need-based financial aid. However, like the FAFSA, the CSS profile required more work on my parent’s part than on my own part. The CSS however, isn’t free to send to multiple colleges.
- Expected Family Contribution– The Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, is the amount of money that the family is expected to contribute. Colleges will determine the amount of financial aid one can receive based on the difference of the cost of the institution and the EFC. For example, Ivy League colleges will cover 100% of the difference, so the family is only expected to pay the EFC. However, not all schools cover 100% of the difference. Be sure to check out each school’s financial aid website to learn about the school’s financial aid packages.
- For an estimated aid package, you can also check out financial aid calculators at many schools.
- Loans– Loans are a form of financial aid that must be repaid with interest. Loans have three major categories: student loans (through the gov’t, i.e: Stafford and Perkins loans), parent loans, and private/alternative student loans (through private lenders).
- Grants– Grants are a type of need-based aid that does not need to be paid back. Grants are usually rewarded after filling out the FAFSA and the CSS Profile
- QuestBridge– QuestBridge is a highly competitive program that matches high-achieving and low-income (usually <$65k/year for a family of four) students with one of the thirty-eight partner colleges. Students must apply early in the fall to be considered to become a QuestBridge scholar, but they will receive their college match through an early round of admissions. These students will then attend the matched college for free.
*Not all schools grant the same amount of aid at the same income levels. For example, students attending Ivy Leagues are not expected to pay for their college tuition if their family income is under 65k. For UCs, however, in-state students with household incomes of less than 80k will have their tuition and fees covered through the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan.
Merit Aid– Unlike need-based aid, merit aid is independent of the wealth of the student. Merit aid is based on the student themself, whether that be based upon extracurriculars, academics, or even ethnicity.
- Scholarships– Scholarships come in many different types and forms, but they all have one thing in common: one does not need to repay the money earned through scholarships. Scholarship applications range from a couple sections to fill out to well-written essays, and they may be through your high school, your future college, or through private companies. Scholarships may also have stipulations. For example, a scholarship may require the student to maintain a certain GPA while in college or to intern at a company over the summer. Personally, I found that the best way to find and apply for scholarships is through my high school’s college and career center and through specific college/scholarship applications online.
*Scholarships may also be need-based or may also take into account the wealth of the student.*
Examples of merit aid include:
- The National Merit Scholarship- Many high school juniors (or the equivalent) take the PSAT. In doing so, they are also taking the NMSQT, or the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. This prestigious award is given to finalists who have scored high on their PSATs
- School-specific scholarships- Many colleges offer scholarships for highly qualified applicants. Students may be taken into consideration for these scholarships by simply applying to the school, or students may have to fill out a separate application to be considered for these scholarships.
- Private Scholarships- Many companies offer scholarships to high-achieving students in hopes that the students will pursue certain degrees or may come back and intern with them over the summer. Additionally, many foundations offer scholarships in memory of certain influential individuals. These scholarships are given to students that encompass the ethics and morals of these individuals.
Applying for and receiving aid for colleges is an extremely tedious process. However, it is also rewarding, especially if the money allows one to go to one’s dream school. Even if you are only awarded a couple thousand of dollars, every dollar counts. Think about it this way: the less money spent on your tuition and housing, the more money you can spend on enjoying your college experience. Don’t be the person who only eats instant ramen because it is cheap. Be the person that can make the most of your four years as an undergrad (and maybe later on down the road a grad student?) and that can (finally!) live life to the fullest.