You have a million questions about financial aid, some more difficult to answer than others. What forms do I have to fill out? How do I know how much money I will get? Who can help me understand all of my confusion?
First of all, don’t get overwhelmed. Use your prospective college’s financial aid office to your benefit. They know all the answers to your questions (even the complicated ones).
Who is available to help me?
“If you need assistance or information about student aid, contact a financial aid administrator in the financial aid office of the school you’re considering,” says Lee Harrell, assistance vice president for admission and financial aid at Ohio Wesleyan University (owu.edu). “Every school that provides financial aid has administrators who are available to help you complete forms, determine your financial aid eligibility and answer your questions. They are there to help you, and their assistance is free.”
Say it again: free
Having a financial aid administrator help you will not only take the stress off your shoulders, but is an amazing complimentary service that will help you (and your parents) get the most out of your money.
What can I ask?
Remember when your fifth grade teacher told you there’s no such thing as a stupid question? The same goes for asking questions about financial aid. (Except this time, you don’t have to raise your hand.)
“Some of the more common questions that students ask relate to costs, application procedures and eligibility determination,” Harrell says. More common questions he’s asked include: What does it cost to attend college? What types of financial aid are available? How do I apply for financial aid? Do I qualify for financial aid? The answers are different for each person.
Though many FAQs are answered on the financial aid section of your prospective college’s Web site, ask a financial aid administrator the questions specific to your situation.
When should I visit the financial aid office?
Simply put, whenever you need to and as early as possible!
“Students and families should feel free to contact the financial aid office with any questions or concerns,” says Julie Pier, financial aid director at The University of South Dakota.
Harrell agrees. “Remember that the financial aid office is the best resource to provide students with important information about financial aid programs and how they work.”
They’re also your best resource if you have a unique financial aid situation.
“If a student feels they have some special and unusual circumstances in their family that have not been reflected when determining aid eligibility, they may want to set up an appointment with their financial aid officer to discuss those circumstances,” says Pier.
What should I do before a visit?
Be prepared for your financial aid appointment.
“Two of the most important things students can do to ensure that their financial aid process goes as smoothly as possible are to complete financial aid applications and forms accurately and to submit them on time,” says Harrell.
It’s especially important to be prompt when sending in your applications, because colleges get flooded with them. “Don’t wait until the last minute to get started on your financial aid!” says Pier. “Financial aid offices tend to be very busy at the beginning of each term, and if students wait to apply for aid or resolve problems, they may find their aid delayed or even gone.”
Can I renegotiate my award?
“The old saying that it doesn’t hurt to ask may apply when students are comparing award letters from different schools,” says Harrell. “If students are disappointed with the awards offered from a particular school, the best approach may be to contact the financial aid office and request a review of their financial aid package.”
Though it doesn’t hurt to ask, you may be disappointed. “Many schools do not renegotiate financial packages simply because they’ve already made every effort to offer the best possible funding,” he says.
The financial aid office is your best resource to find out all you need to know about the financial aid process. Instead of just brushing off a question, visit a financial aid office to find the most accurate answer. They’re there to help you and your money!
Parents! What role do you play in the financial aid process?
Parents play a huge part in their son or daughter’s college planning and financial aid process.
“Although applying for financial aid is ultimately the responsibility of the student, parents play a very important role in their child’s financial aid process,” says Harrell. “For starters, they help complete financial aid applications such as the FAFSA.”
Parents can also guide their children in the right direction for their financial future.
“Parental input is valuable in helping students understand debt and future repayment of student loans. They can offer advice and guidance on how to use student aid money wisely,” Pier says.
A great example to start with (and one that will also help your student) is to fill out your taxes early. “FAFSA financial information is derived from the previous year’s income tax return, and students are encouraged to complete the FAFSA as early as possible,” says Pier.