Category Archives: Grant Aid

FAFSA with use 2 year old tax data.

President Changes FAFSA to Give Families Better College Affordability Information.

This change in the FAFSA start-date starting on October 1st 2016, along with the recently announced College Scorecard system, are game changing aids for families with college-bound children.

All at once, families will have the information they need to make college lists that are actually affordable for their financial circumstances. The College Scorecard is a complementary tool that will allow a family to use their actual federal financial aid eligibility to compare school costs before their student applies.

Never before has this been possible, and it makes me wonder why the college financial aid system ever got to the point where students were applying blindly to schools they could not afford if they were accepted. When you think about it, that’s pretty much the definition of a disfunctional system. Hate to put it so bluntly, but there you have it.

There has been a lot of fear on the part of institutions of higher education everywhere. Changing the FAFSA start-date encountered a lot of political push-back. It took a lame-duck president, looking for legacy, to pull the plug on this systemic bottleneck.

This change will cause a rapid re-examination of business plans in colleges across the country. Recruitment, budget cycles, processing aid applications and issuing awards all must happen a lot earlier.

At this time we are in the one year countdown. Next year on October 1, 2016, if all goes well, the very first “early” FAFSA applications will be filed.

Will the FAFSA-only colleges be ready? There could be a tsunami of applicants, many of whom had never considered filling out the FAFSA because of it’s complexity. There might be a lot more Pell Grant recipients, who knows? The whole FAFSA system may slow down or even malfunction (like you know what!) under the weight of applications. But, in the long run processes will smooth themselves out. Meanwhile college students will be making “aid aware” college choices that might keep the Student Loan Monster at bay!
But still, the question remains: why did we, the parents, allow such a crazy system to persist for so long? Hmmmm….

How to understand financial aid award letters

Decode College Financial Aid Awards!

Okay, what the heck! Why can’t colleges just be clear about their financial aid offers.

All across the nation, high school seniors are receiving their financial aid award letters from the colleges to which they have been accepted.

Students and parents alike will be overjoyed as they take a first glance at these letters. After all, real professionals have carefully formulated these documents for maximum obfuscation.

Many who receive these well-crafted offers will believe that their top choice college dreams have been fulfilled.

The celebrations will commence. The heady feelings will go on for days. Then, someone may point out a questionable figure in the offer, and the clouds of doubt will move in.

The family will be confused, and as usual it will fall to Mom to interpret the meaning of the cryptic line item.

Mom, the detective, must now spend hours and days on the internet seeking out experts. She will repeatedly call the college or colleges asking questions, the answers for which she has no background to make an informed interpretation.

When, through enormous effort, the bad news is revealed, and it is determined that the dream college is unaffordable, there will be WAILING. And that’s not all…there will also be DOOR SLAMMING. Shall I go on? No, I think you get the picture…

Why, why, why can’t this information be made clear right away. Get the bad news out there and move on.

Do colleges really think that families will somehow make magic money appear? Well, yes. But it will probably be the magic money known as soul-crushing student loan debt.

It’s time for all financial aid award letters to be standardized to help consumers. So far, the only thing out there is the Education Department’s Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. Thankfully, it’s being adopted, albeit slowly, by some correct-thinking colleges.

My hope for the future is that all colleges and universities get on the transparency bandwagon!

The CSS Profile Lives…Again!

Born just last week, the ever-charming CSS Profile for 2015-16 is online now!

Most colleges are satisfied with the financial information they get from the FAFSA form, which is not available until January 1st of each year. But over 250 colleges and universities, the ones with big endowments, are looking for the best students they can get and they will use their funds to make it possible (or desirable) for those students to attend their institutions. The College Board administrates the CSS Profile financial aid questionaire on behalf of these schools and has a list of them at their website, https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile . So whether you are applying for the first time to one of the colleges that require this form, or whether you are applying for the next school year of college financial aid, this is the time to start getting familiar with this complex form. Current high school seniors will need to start now to fill out the CSS Profile if they are going for any kind of Early Decision or Early Action. Others may have until April 15th of next year.
It’s important to understand that while the FAFSA form asks the same questions of every applicant, the CSS Profile is customizable by each participating college. Each is able to ask different specific questions to elicit the kind of detail their financial aid administrators need to dispense aid in the best way for their institution’s enrollment goals. The College Board charges a fee for each CSS Profile application, while the Federal government’s FAFSA form is free. Watch my video about the CSS Profile to get in the right mindset for this invasive, yet potentially valuable financial exercise.

Net Price Calculators Require Patience

Just when you thought getting college financial aid information was going to be a snap, it isn’t.

Getting that piece of information about grants in order to use my “Bucket Method” of comparing college affordability is, admittedly, a bit of a challenge. The unlovely Net Price Calculators now installed by law on the websites of most every college in the U.S. are, in some cases, a display of resistance and neglect by the host entities. On one hand, I am somewhat heartened by the efforts of the College Board to standardize the format of data entry and display of this online college financial aid tool. On the other hand, I am saddened by the efforts by other third party NPC providers to use clever marketing to hoodwink prospective students into making poor choices and falling headlong into giant craters of debt. Watch this video and become your own financial aid “detective”.