Financial Aid for College

College is expensive, and costs are rising each year. But financial aid makes paying for college easier. Financial aid comes in two basic forms: gift aid, such as grants and scholarships that do not have to be repaid, and self-help, such as loans (which must be repaid with interest) and work-study (part-time jobs on campus). Do not eliminate a college because you think it costs too much. There are many types of aid available if you and your family qualify.Here are some general principles about financial aid:  

  • Financial aid assists families in paying for college.
  • The primary obligation of paying for college costs rests with the family.
  • Generally, financial aid depends on your financial need.
  • Families with similar circumstances are expected to contribute similar amounts.
  • Financial aid distributes limited resources in an equitable manner.

Need-Based Aid

Financial aid is based on the amount a family is expected to pay for college, called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). dollar_sign1.jpgThis amount is based on the family's income and assets, the number of children in college, and family size. Basically, if you take the costs of going to college, called the Costs of Attendance (COA), which includes tuition, fees, room and board, travel expenses, books, supplies, and personal expenses, and subtract from this amount your Expected Family Contribution, you will end up with your Financial Aid Eligibility. You can calculate an estimate of your EFC at www.FAFSA4caster.com.

Cost of attendance (COA) minus Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Aid Eligibility

Not all colleges will meet your family's financial aid eligibility, but many will. It is not uncommon for students to pay less for a private school than they would have to pay at a public school with in-state tuition because private colleges often have more money available for financial aid.

It is important that you check with each school to which you are applying to determine its financial aid deadlines and requirements. The deadline for California public schools is March 2nd, but the deadlines for private schools could be earlier.

FAFSA

To apply for need-based aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a free form required to determine your eligibility for financial aid, including grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study. You can fill out this form online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Beware of other similar sites that are for-profit and where you will be charged a fee. A paper version is also available, but we recommend you fill out the online version. It is important to fill out this form as soon as possible after January 1st but in no case later than the earliest financial aid deadline for the colleges to which you are applying. We recommend that families submit the FAFSA because they may be entitled to financial aid and not realize it.

To complete a FAFSA, you must also get a PIN, or personal identification number, which is a code used by the US Department of Education to identify you online. A PIN can be obtained atwww.pin.ed.gov. Both parents and students should request a PIN as soon as possible. With a PIN, you can sign your online FAFSA electronically, check the status of your FAFSA, make corrections to your FAFSA, and complete online yearly renewals of your FAFSA.

After obtaining your PIN, you need to assemble all your documentation. In order to complete the FAFSA you will need:

  • The student's driver's license and social security number
  • The student's income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1099 forms for the prior year
  • The parents' income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1099 forms for the prior year
  • Current bank statements and mortgage information
  • Records relating to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments
  • Documentation of non-taxable income, such as Social Security income, AFDC, and Veterans Benefits
  • Business and farm records
  • Records relating to any unusual family circumstances, such as medical and dental expenses not covered by health insurance, tuition expenses at elementary or secondary schools, unusually high child care costs, death, divorce, and loss of employment.

You will need to renew your FAFSA each year. There is no automatic renewal.

After you submit your FAFSA you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes the information you submitted on the FAFSA and presents your Expected Family Contribution. The colleges you designate will also receive this information.