HOW MUCH WILL COLLEGE COST?
The first step toward getting a realistic understanding of how much a college or university will cost is to use the “Net Price Calculator”. Many colleges and universities use College Board’s Net Price Calculator (handy because you only have to enter financial/tax information once) while others have developed their own net price calculators.
You might be asking yourself: What is a net price calculator?
The Net Price Calculator is a tool that helps you estimate your “net price” (net price= sticker price at a specific college or university minus any grants or scholarships for which you might be eligible).
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Net Price Calculator looks at the “sticker price” of a college, uses your financial information (which you enter), and then estimates the amount of money your family would be expected to contribute to the cost of college. The Net Price Calculator also evaluates your eligibility for financial aid.
Remember—it is possible that a college with a high sticker price might end up costing less than a college with a low sticker price, and the Net Price Calculator can help you to estimate “financial fit” at a variety of colleges and universities.
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
A majority of financial aid falls into two categories: need-based or merit-based. You can receive aid from the government (both federal and state), your college, and from other organizations. Financial aid can be categorized into that which needs to be repaid (loans) and aid that doesn't need to be repaid (grants). The Federal Student Aid website
has detailed information on grants, several types of loans, and campus-based programs. The Federal Student Aid site also explains how your college's financial aid office calculates how much aid you'll get.
1. The first form you need to learn about and file is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is required by every college and university if you apply for financial aid.
There is no fee connected to the FAFSA, and filing the FAFSA determines your eligibility for Federal financial aid funds, the backbone of most college financial aid programs. Provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA is available online ONLY at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov
* Note: You will need an FSA ID/PIN number. The FSA ID replaced the PIN in May 2015. Registering for an FSA ID is the easiest way to make sure the financial aid process runs smoothly, because it allows users to electronically access personal information on the FAFSA web site as well as electronically sign a FAFSA. Students and parents need to register for separate FSA IDs. This can be done at www.fsaid.fed.gov
Prior-Prior Year (PPY) refers to a policy enabling students and families to file the FAFSA using tax information from two years ago. For example, a high school senior planning to enroll in college in Fall 2017 will file FAFSA using taxes from 2015.
PPY debuts in October 2016 for aid applications for the 2017-18 award year. This means that the high school class of 2017 will be the first high school cohort to use the PPY FAFSA, and all returning college students in that same year will also use it. Students from the class of 2017 will be able to fill out the FAFSA beginning on October 1, 2016 (in the past, they had to wait until January 1). This change means that applicants no longer need to estimate income and tax information and will be able to retrieve their data directly from the IRS.
Review a Department of Education PowerPoint on the 2017-18 FAFSA
and visit their 2017-18 FAFSA Changes website
, with FAQs, fact sheets, and more. Many other Department resources are located on the sidebar to the right.
**Please note: www.fafsa.com and www.fafsa.net are the Web sites of private companies who will try to charge you money to fill out your FREE Application for Federal Student Aid. Avoid these sites!
2. The second most common form needed for financial aid is the College Scholarship Service Financial Aid Profile (CSS Profile). The CSS Profile is what colleges and universities use to determine how much non-federal aid they can award. Most often, private colleges and universities are the ones to require the CSS Profile, however it is your responsibility to check with your colleges and the official list of CSS Profile schools to determine if you need to file a CSS Profile. The form is available online css.collegeboard.org. Also on this website is the student guide to the CSS Profile (which provides a list of colleges and universities that require the CSS Profile).
3. The third most common form needed for financial aid is individual college and university institutional forms. It is your responsibility to obtain institutional forms from the colleges by phone, letter, or online. Many colleges have online financial aid applications, having eliminated paper copies entirely. Make certain to check early and often on the availability of these forms.
After they are submitted online, the FAFSA and CSS Profile are sent to central agencies to be processed and forwarded to the colleges to which you plan to apply. Families complete only one FAFSA and one CSS Profile. Institutional forms, on the other hand, are requested directly from each college and returned to its financial aid office.
GATHER YOUR PAPERWORK AND INFORMATION
What you need varies by application, but a basic checklist includes:
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically.
- If you are a dependent student, then you will also need most of the above information for your parent(s)
MERIT-BASED AID (SCHOLARSHIPS)
Many schools that award merit based aid do so when you apply to that specific school. It is important that you check each school’s website for information about merit aid/scholarships. Some schools might require a separate application and also could require you to submit additional letters of recommendation and additional essays.
Outside scholarships (those not sponsored by the college or university) vary in their processes. Some require a nomination, some require specific applications (with essays, interviews, etc.), while others require only a transcript, recommendation, and GPA. Information on local scholarships can be found in the Delaware Scholarship Compendium (http://scholarships.delawaregoestocollege.org/
). For other scholarship opportunities, we recommend starting with www.fastweb.com