The first smart step in the college application process is to apply to a college that is a financial safety college. For middle-income families, the two-year community colleges or the CSU or UC systems might be the best choices available.
Who is most likely to get aid?
- Students with "A" averages who apply to schools where there are mostly "B" students. Another way to look at it is this - apply to colleges where academically you will be in the top 25% of the class, not the middle 50% or the lowest 25% of the class.
- Star athletes.
- Students whose household income is less than $40,000 a year.
- Underrepresented students (African Americans, Hispanics, or Native Americans) who apply to schools where they will be at least in the middle academic range for that college
Next, apply for financial aid. Many colleges require that you apply even if you are interested only in a merit-based (versus need-based) scholarship or loans. To apply for financial aid, your parents will have to fill out one or more financial aid forms.
If your family has absolutely no financial need, then it is probably not worth applying for financial aid. If a college's financial aid materials state that their admissions policy is "need aware," that means the college is likely to admit applicants who are willing to pay the full sticker price. If paying full price for four years might jeopardize your family's financial security, then by all means, apply for financial aid.
If you are hoping to get aid, then study hard. The better your grades and test scores, the more likely you are to receive a generous package. As noted above, you are more likely to receive aid if you apply to a school where you will be in the top 25% of the applicants.
You must meet each college's financial aid deadlines. Check with each college. For early decision and early action, deadlines can be as early as October of the senior year.
There are three main financial aid forms. The most important one is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is best to fill out this form as soon as possible after January 1st of your senior year; the deadline is March 2nd (for Cal Grant consideration). If your parents' tax returns are not finalized by that date, they should use estimates rather than miss the deadline. There is time to file an amendment if the estimates are way off – just don't miss that deadline. The FAFSA form is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
The FAFSA is automatically reviewed for:
- Federal Pell Grants: Unlike a loan, a Federal Pell Grant does not have to be repaid. Generally, Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a BA or professional degree. The maximum amount of the award is $4,000 per year.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): A FSEOG is for undergraduates with exceptional financial need and gives priority to students who receive Federal Pell Grants. The FSEOG does not have to be paid back. The maximum amount awarded is $4,000 per year.
- Federal Work-Study: The Federal Work-Study Program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money at a campus job to help pay education expenses. The total Federal Work-Study award depends on when you apply, your level of need, and the funding level of your school.
- Federal Perkins Loan: A Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for both undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. Your school is your lender, with government funds, with a share contributed by the school. You must repay this loan to your school. The maximum loan amount is $4,000 per year.
- Federal Stafford Student Loan: These loans may be subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are awarded based on need, and interest does not accrue until after you have completed your studies. Unsubsidized loans are not based on needs and start accruing interest during your studies.
- Federal PLUS Loan: These are loans available to parents of dependent students.
Note: If you list a California college on your FAFSA form, then you will automatically be considered for a Cal Grant, which is state-funded money which is not repaid. However, in order to be considered, you must complete the FAFSA and no later than March 2. MHS automatically submits your GPA to the California Student Aid Commission so long as you have provided us a valid social security number. You may check the school has your social security number on file with the Guidance Office.
Once you have filed your FAFSA form, it will be processed and a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be mailed to you. If there are corrections to be made, make them at once and return the form as instructed. Remember that accurate figures from completed income tax returns are necessary.
The third form you might be asked to fill out is the CSS/Profile. This is a financial form used in addition to the FAFSA by some private colleges. If the school you are applying to is listed on the CSS Profile registration form, then you must fill it out. Go to www.collegeboard.com to complete your personalized Profile application. Site opens October 1st. It is not free, so be sure to fill out the registration form and send in the correct payment well in advance of January 1st. Individual forms customized for each college will be sent to you so that you can file them during the same time period as the FAFSA.
For complete financial aid information, go to www.fafsa.org.
Be sure to attend MHS's financial aid information night on Nov. 10, 2011. A professional college financial aid administrator will assist you with questions and updated information regarding financial aid changes.