College Financial Aid
What You Need to Know To Successfully Navigate
The College Financial Aid Roadmap
In a person’s lifetime, paying for your child’s or your college education is right up there with other important financial milestones such as buying a home, paying for a wedding, or saving for retirement.
High school students interested in attending college, and their family members, must take into consideration that, on average, college and university tuition increases by 3-5% annually. As the cost of a college education increases, the more diligent you will need to be about maximizing your student’s financial aid package.
As early as freshman year in high school, students can begin to build their GPA, or grade point average. The higher the GPA, the more attractive a student is to a prospective college or university admissions office. Of course, GPA is not the only factor in securing college scholarships, grants, and loans, yet it is an important one. Other factors include a students’ extra-curricular involvement, leadership roles, athletic or merit awards or recognition, and a well-rounded high school life. In addition, the student’s and his or her family members’ tax returns and FICO scores are also key factors that colleges use to determine if a student is eligible for a financial aid package, or not, and how much they will be awarded.
When a student is ready to apply, the first step is to fill out the U.S. government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, or FAFSA, to be found at https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa. This is the baseline document that most if not all colleges and universities will use to determine a student’s financial aid needs once your student has applied. Depending on where a student applies, there may be additional financial forms a college or university will request. This is the most vital step in applying for federal grants, work-study, subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
FYI, for the upcoming 2020-2021 college and university cycle, if you are a dependent student and your family has a combined income of $26,000 or less, your expected contribution to college costs would automatically be zero. The same goes if you (as an independent student) and your spouse earn no more than $26,000 annually. As a rule, as a family’s income increases, the amount a college or university will expect a family to contribute will also increase or the EFC Expected Family Contribution.