Tagged: merit aid

Where to Find Money For College

Recently, we covered general information about scholarships.  Now we’ll talk about where to look for them.

Never pay  an agency to search for scholarships for you!  Your own diligence will reward you with more than enough material that won’t cut into your profits.

FIRST source of scholarships is the colleges you’re going to apply to.  When you make your due-diligence visit, go to the Financial Aid Office.  Make an appointment, if you can, so that you will meet with a professional rather than the work-study student manning the counter.

  • Ask if  this college has a policy of meeting full need without loans.  That will open a discussion of their aid package and merit aid options.
  • Next, ask about specific scholarships that you might fit.  Many families leave money to a college for an incoming student that is similar to a family member who attended.  Are you a left handed violinist?  Micro-economics major from Scranton?  Have grandparents from Lithuania?  These scholarships go begging because the FA office doesn’t have the resources to comb through the admitted students to find a match.
  • Many colleges have discounts for the children of educators or veterans or police officers; its good for you if your parent is one of these!

Second Review all the employers your parents and grandparents have worked for; make a list of organizations members of your family belong to; add any that you or they could join that offer scholarships to members.  Look for civil, social and professional group memberships.

Third  Look at companies with whom you do business.  Many corporations mention  scholarships in their advertising, in on-line profiles or on their websites.  Check brands you use or are familiar with. You’ll be amazed! You don’t need to be an athlete  to be eligible for a local team’s scholarships.

Fourth Use apps and online resources.  You might want to create a dedicated email address to use when signing up  online.  You can use this address for joining college blogs or reaching out to admissions offices.  Keep the address professional.

  • scholly app for android and iphone for $.99
  • scholarshipadvisor app ( from Washington Post)
  • scholarpro.com
  • tuitionrewards.com (Sage Scholars)
  • tuitionsfundingsources.com
  • moolahspot.com
  • finaid.org or fastweb.org (Marc Kantrowitz)
  • Scholarship Owl,
  • Scholarships 360,
  • Scholarship Points.
  • quatromoney.com/scholarship
  • Big Future/College Board

You will find that most scholarships are good for 4 years so long as you remain in school with a minimum GPA. However, some are for one year require you to go through the application process from the beginning for each additional year.

Good luck with your search! $$

I have more ideas for you if you reach out. stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679. Let talk!

FAFSA for Financial Aid and Grants

The FAFSA goes live online on October 1, giving you a few weeks to submit the form.  If you are applying ED or EA and submit the FAFSA and/or the CSS  with your application you should get an idea of what your aid package will look like with the college’s decision.  Most colleges have set an absolute deadline for FAFSA as February 1 or February 15 to qualify for aid.

1. FAFSA is a form that allows a computer program to set the EFC, Expected Family Contribution.  The number is based on income and certain assets excluding the primary residence.   I’ve seen EFCs ranging from $125 to $100,000.   The The EFC is what the formula assumes is available to pay for college.  Unless there is a change in family financial circumstances, the EFC is non-negotiable.

2.    The EFC amount is sent to the colleges you designate.  The college decides how to fill the gap between the sticker price and your EFC.    Merit aid in the form of grants or scholarships is one way colleges make up the difference.   The amount of this aid is usually bench-marked by scores and grades and is a rough measure of how much the college wants you to choose them.  When a college is very interested in a particular applicant they will find money to make enrolling attractive.

3. “Financial aid” can be mostly loans.  First year students are eligible for $5500 in federally guaranteed loans; second year students  can take up to $6500, third and fourth years, $7500, fifth years can borrow $4000.  This totals $31,000, the exact amount that many colleges say is the average debt load of their graduates.   Unfortunately, parent loans are in addition to this calculation so we don’t know the total of family debt per student which can be significant.

The Documents you will need include for student and parents: social security numbers, student drivers license number, tax returns for 2017, records of untaxed income, bank and investment records.

4. CSS is another document used by some private colleges to determine how much the family can be expected to pay.  The form is downloaded from the College Board website and has a small fee attached to submitting it.  Both FAFSA and CSS are required by a few colleges so be certain you file carefully and observe deadlines.

If you would like a copy of the documents you will need to complete either of these financial aid forms, I’ll be happy so provide a copy.  I can also give you more information on how financial aid packages are calculated and what you might find included in them. stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679.





Comparing Financial Aid Letters

When you lay out your financial aid letters you may find it impossible to figure out what it will cost at each of the colleges.  The organization and terms on each letter can be very different and few will give you a bottom-line cost.   Try this plan to come up with a real cost analysis.


For each college calculate……

Cost of Attendance          Hopefully, you saved the Cost of Attendance numbers from your pre-application research.  If you didn’t, add the tuition cost per year to the room and board cost.  You may not know the R&B cost until you deposit and choose a residence hall and room type; use the figure on the website as a ballpark number.  Add $500/year for books and supplies unless studying art, architecture and perhaps, engineering as the cost of supplies will be higher.  Next, figure out how much it will cost to travel to and from college, specially if flying is part of this expense.  Consider how much spending money the student will need.  Add it all together.

OK, now you are ready to attack the award letters.  For each award letter…..

Your EFC          From the Cost of Attendance you calculated above, subtract the Expected Family Contribution.  The resulting figure is the “Need“, the amount of money you hope the college will cover above the amount you must pay.

Merit Aid          Need can be met in various ways.  If there is one or more merit scholarship or grant offered, Pell or other grants, subtract those amounts from the Need you calculated.

Work Study          Look at the letters for Work Study.  Work study is a campus job that can be funded federally, by the state or by the college.  Subtract from the last Need figure calculated above.

Loans          Now we come to “Self Help”, ie, loans.  There will be federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans totaling $5500.  This is the maximum for first year students.  You may also see Parent Plus loans in the financial award.   These are loans parents take out in their own name and are in addition to any loans taken to fulfill the EFC.  Use this link to find more information on loans                                                                                  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/subsidized-unsubsidized

The Gap          When  you have subtracted all of the funding from the Cost of Attendance, you should  have a zero (or close if you’re estimating room and board).  Unfortunately, not all colleges meet all of  a student’s financial need and leave families with a Gap.

Your total commitment          Your commitment is the sum of your EFC,  servicing on-federal loans and the gap between the aid package and the Cost of Attendance.  Compare the  amount you will have to pay out of pocket for each college to find the one that is closest to your projected budget.

Scholarships from outside sources can reduce the pressure.  There are scholarships for all kinds of students and scholarships with application deadlines in every month.

Outside grants and scholarships          Students can begin to apply for college money at age 13.  The awards are held until the student matriculates in college.  These scholarships do not appear on financial aid letters from colleges.  Upon learning of the additional funding, most colleges will reduce the loans in the financial aid package, but there are some that reduce institutional grants.  When the FAFSA is filed for the student’s second year, the outside scholarships are condsidered student income when calculating the new EFC.If you will be borrowing to be able to meet the EFC,  outside scholarships can reduce the total amount of family debt.



Allegheny College, One Of Pennsylvania’s Finest

Recently, I sat down with two admissions reps from Allegheny College in western Pennsylvania.  This Liberal Arts College has a great reputation for turning out well prepared graduates.  Allegheny is ranked in the top 50 most rigorous colleges and its home town of Meadville is #7 of the best towns to live in for Pennsylvania.

Strong majors include pre-professional training (80% of pre-med studetnt are admitted to medical school).  Engineering boasts a 5 year program with Washington University (St. Louis) and Columbia University (New York City).  The business department now includes Managerial Economics.

The environmental science department is in the top 5 nationally.  There is a garden for fruit and vegetables that are used to feed students and an aquaponics initiative.

New on campus is the neuroscience and psychology building.  Both are excellent departments.

Allegheny is Test Optional and scores aren’t required for merit aid.

Students have 3 advisors: 1st year advising, an advisor in their major and one for their senior thesis.

Allegheny hosts a community of fraternities and sororities but neither the Greeks, jocks or any other group dominates the social life.

Check out this terrific college at www.allegheny.edu.

College List building is more than choosing colleges to apply to: it’s identifying your potential home for the next 4 years.   Lets talk about your comfort zone and the kinds of colleges where you will thrive.  stephanie@accessguidance.com or 610-212-6679.

Test Optional Variations

maybeMore and more colleges are offering applicants the option of applying without submitting test scores.  Each college has its own agenda and definition of “optional” .  The agenda can range from dropping the potentially lowest scoring admitted students when reporting the middle 50% of admits (which raises the score band and therefore selectivity and college rankings), to encouraging less prepared students to apply, to a genuine belief that scores don’t reflect college readiness.

Test Optional applications generally mean that the admissions office will look at GPA, rank, curriculum, recommendations and high school activities when making an admissions decision.  A few disregard scores if sent but most will consider them if they are part of the student’s package.

Many Test Optional colleges request the scores after a student has been admitted, either for statistical analysis or for placement in first year classes.  Not taking any admissions qualifying exam can be a handicap.

While not reporting test scores could lead to a “YES!” from the admissions office, it could also mean a “NO!” for merit aid.  Almost everywhere, merit aid decisions are based on a combination of GPA, scores and rank.  With no scores to boost a student into an automatic grant, non-submitting students don’t qualify regardless of their grades and the rigor of their high school courses.

If you are considering not sending ACT or SAT scores, ask questions of the admissions office.  Do you need scores to be eligible for “free” money?  Are there additional requirements of students not submitting scores? If you choose to submit, how are the scores used?  What will be substituted if no scores are sent? How will placement decisions be made?

The more you learn about the options at each college you plan to apply to, the better your decisions will be.

For explanations of admissions vocabulary and policies, make an appointment with Stephanie for a phone or in person talk to answer your questions.  610-212-6679 or stephanie@accessguidance.com.


Scholarship Search Primer

Three sources of college funding are

  1. Merit Aid, based on grades, scores and achievements.
  2. Need Based Aid which is primarily loans
  3. Third Party funding of scholarships and grants

By far the largest amount of money is found in third party funding, as much as $14 billion.  There are niche scholarships for specific interests, for men or women, religion or ethnicity, college major, and many more categories of students.

Listen for information on scholarship search and applications.

Start early to give yourself more opportunities; be persistent especially when you aren’t fin aid applicationsgiven the award; apply for small and large scholarships and watch the dollars add up.

I have lists of scholarships and contests to start you on your way.  There is money for everyone and much of it isn’t awarded because no one applies.  Scholarships and grants are an ounce of prevention that pays out a pound of cure for college debt.

For scholarship help, text or call 610-212-6679; stephanie@accessguidnace.com.

Financial Aid Letters: The Critical Comparison

Are You Kidding Me?

Financial Aid letters are beginning to arrive along with lots of anxiety as parents compare the terms offered by colleges.  Here’s help on what to look for.

First, find the EFC, Expected Family Contribution.  This is the same number for every         college.  This figure is subtracted from the COA, cost of Attendance, and the amount below the line is called Need.

Need is met in a number of ways.

If the student is being offered Merit Aid in the form of Grants or Scholarships, this is subtracted from the Need (see above).

Next look for Self Help which is comprised of Work-Study which is an on-campus job., (This is also money that you don’t have to borrow) and Loans.

In the student’s name, federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans usually total $5,500 for first and second year students.

Subtract the Loans and Work-Study from the amount you had after subtracting Merit Aid.  What is left is money that parents will have to pay, in addition to the EFC.

Cost of Attendance                    $50,000

EFC                                            –    15,000

Need                                              $35,000accounting

Grants                                          – $10,000

Work-Study                                –      5,000

Student Loans                           –     $5,500

Unmet Need                                   $14,500

After deducting Merit Aid and Student Self-Help, there is still unmet need of $14,500.  The college may list Parent Plus Loans to fill in the unmet need.  These are loans that parents take out in their own names.  This would be in addition to any loans to meet the EFC.

Some colleges construct their Financial Aid packages with a gap between all the funding sources and the Cost of Attendance.  This is, unsurprisingly, called the GAP.  Yes, this is another amount that parents have to pay.

In total, parents must pay the EFC, Unmet Need and fill in the GAP.   When comparing your award letters the critical figures are those that parents have to pay, not the amount of Merit Aid.

Students who have earned scholarships from non-college sources must report them to the college.  Most colleges use the outside scholarships to reduce loans but a few will reduce the Merit Aid by the amount of the scholarships.

packs of dollarsIf you are a student or a parent who is in the midst of college planning, don’t be fooled by the college websites that state the average amount of student debt at graduation.  This figure does not consider the total amount of family debt –  student plus parents.

When you visit campuses, ask the admissions or financial aid representative the amount of parent loans in their average financial aid package.  They may not have an answer for you but it alerts them to your interest and concern.

I’m happy to compare Financial Aid Letters for anyone who is confused or needs help. Call or text 610-212-6679.