In many countries, going to university is free. Not so in the United States, where there is a complex process of garnering money from different sources and essentially what is the “price” of college may not be the final price once the financial pieces are put together. There are also comparisons to be draw between the systems of community college (usually a two-year degree), a public university system (usually done by state, like Univerity of Georgia or University of New York with multiple colleges falling into this system) or private universities. Sometimes a private school, which has large private endowments, can end up with a comparable cost to a public university.
The cost of attending college includes both direct and indirect costs. Direct costs are paid directly to the institution and may include things like tuition, room and board (board is essentially the meal plan) (check with the college whether or not your freshman has to live on campus; some colleges require this). Sounds confusing? It is, but here are some tips to help de-mystify the process a bit!
This information is accurate as of July 2018, but always changing, so please do check your resources. Here are a few points about financial aid:
- You have to apply for it and it doesn’t cost anything to apply. You must apply every year starting October 1 of your student’s senior year of high school.
- Financial aid can be based on skills, abilities, etc but doesn’t automatically happen – you have to apply! The four types of financial aid are grants, scholarships, student loans, and work study. Grants and scholarships do not have to be paid back, but student loans obviously do need to be paid back. Work study is often based upon financial need and assigned by the university, but some colleges offer work study to all students independent of financial need. It depends upon the college.
- The FEDERAL Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must be completed October 1 of your student’s senior year in high school and you must apply every year afterward. Some colleges may require an institutional application for financial aid and/or something called a CSS Profile (this is usually for private universities) as well. State financial aid may have a separate application and deadline, so don’t miss the deadline for the state!
- The FAFSA is based upon your untaxed income and does not include retirement savings. It includes information for both biological parents and includes the “prior prior year” – the incoming freshman class of 2019 is using the 2017 tax data.
- Sources for financial aid could include not only the federal governement but state awards, college and university endowments, private courses, civic organizations and places of worship, and employer. Most scholarships come from the local community – employers of parents of the student, credit unions/banks that the family does business with, civic groups, organizations the family belongs to. Most scholarships are applied to tuition, not room and board. Homeschoolers need to search out local scholarships because this is the sort of thing that is typically funneled to a school guidance counselor, and since homeschooling parents are acting as the guidance counselor, we need to be on the lookout!
One number that colleges and universities work with is the “Expected Family Contribution”. This number is used for calculating need-based financial aid and is a calculated from a federal government formula. Everyone panicks when they see this number, because it generates and parent and student contribution which is always a high number that no one feels they can meet. The financial aid awarded is supposed to equal the cost of attending the college -the expected family contribution.
The other number that is important to know is essentially the net price for each college or university. You can get this number at studentaid.gov by entering your student’s GPA/test scores/financial data, and it will help you figure out what you might be awarded.