Scholarships & Financial Aid
Almost all colleges offer financial aid and/or scholarship programs, but projecting accurately how much college may cost is becoming the single-most complicated - and inconsistent - element of the college search process for families. Students will find that they will get very different financial aid packages from different institutions.
Since 2011, colleges have been required to include a net price calculator (NPC) on their websites. Using data provided by individual families, this tool should provide families with a ballpark estimate of their projected out of pocket cost to attend a range of institutions. But even these projections can be misleading or, even, erroneous. As in all things, the key to not being surprised by the financial realities of college is to be proactive.
Most colleges offer aid “packages” that are comprised of grants (money that does not have to be paid back), loans, and work-study. While some colleges promise to meet 100% of demonstrated need of all accepted students, most colleges employ “preferential packaging” and “gapping” systems (leaving a “gap” between the student’s demonstrated need and what the college actually offers in aid). In preferential packaging, the students with the strongest academic records may receive 100% of their need and relatively small, if any, loans, while students with less impressive credentials will receive smaller grants and much larger loans.
To qualify for financial aid, all families must fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) which becomes available online on October 1 of the student’s senior year. At a number of colleges - mostly selective, private institutions - families must also fill out a financial aid form called the CSS PROFILE, which is administered by the College Board. For students who need financial aid, it is imperative that they follow instructions carefully and that they submit all financial aid forms on time. Students who fail to submit documents on time will not receive any aid; there are no second chances when it comes to financial aid applications. Merit ScholarshipsMost colleges use merit scholarships as an important tool in meeting their enrollment targets. In the world of admissions, merit scholarships are often regarded simply as “tuition discounts.” At some colleges, it seems that every student is offered at least a minimal “scholarship;” at other institutions, there are just a handful of substantial awards, offered only to the highest achievers in the applicant pool. In most cases, there are no separate applications for these merit awards; the colleges have set criteria for the awards and as they review applications, they designate which students qualify for the awards. At colleges where there are separate applications for merit scholarships, the grants are usually quite large – and few in a number. For example, Emory University, Davidson College, and Boston University offer full-tuition scholarships each year. The competition for these awards is incredibly competitive.Other ScholarshipsEven in a tough economy, scholarship awards are available to students from a variety of sources. We encourage students to research these opportunities, determine their eligibility and apply for them! One website that helps students locate scholarships is Fastweb, but there are others, as well.