One of the biggest stressors for families today is how to pay for college. For many, the cost can be the most determining factor in selecting a college. Understanding how financial aid works can also be complicated. Simply put, financial aid is money provided for you to help pay for college. Broadly, there are two categories of financial aid: one is need-based, and the other is merit-based. Check out this incredibly comprehensive four-step guide to paying for college here.
NEED-BASED FINANCIAL AID
Families have to demonstrate need to be considered for need-based financial aid. “Need” is defined as the difference between what it costs to attend a particular college and the amount your family can afford to pay towards those costs. It is determined by the information you and your family submit on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, and the college’s professional judgment. It is used to make up the difference between what a family can pay and the total cost of education.
In determining what a family can afford, need analysis systems work under the principle that students and their parents bear the primary responsibility for financing education costs.
Types of Need-Based Aid
Grants are funds that do not have to be repaid. They are usually awarded based on need alone and come from a variety of sources — Pell Grants (federal money), state grants (usually available only to students attending college in their home states, such as Cal Grants), and grant money from the college’s own resources.
Federal Loans must be repaid and typically have a low fixed interest rate. The amount of these loans is capped to ensure students are not overburdened with debt upon graduation. Both parents and students can take out federal loans. For parents, it is called the Parent PLUS Loan. Parents can borrow up to the difference between the cost of education and other financial aid awards.
Work-Study involves earning money as payment for a job, usually arranged for you by the college. It is part of your aid package, not a paycheck that you earn. If work hours are not completed, funds will need to be repaid to the college. One of the great benefits of the work-study program is the flexibility you have with the job. Jobs on campus understand when you have a test or a paper due and tend to be very accommodating of your schedule. If you are offered a work-study program, we recommend taking it.
MERIT-BASED FINANCIAL AID
Merit Aid is financial aid given to students based on a student’s strong application qualifications. Students do not apply for merit aid. It is generally awarded in the form of academic scholarships and/or athletic scholarships and does not have to be repaid. Not all schools offer merit aid, and some offer more than others. See link here.