Financial aid packages are an important source of funding, and for many families, a necessary one. Some students (especially first generation students) and families may be unfamiliar with how financial aid awards work, and that there are a few important “fine print” items to look out for in order to better understand how your award works.
Let’s get started.
- Which parts of your award are one-time-only?
One major “fine print” item students and parents often miss is what parts of your financial aid award is “each year” and what parts are “one time only.” It’s very common for colleges to offer scholarships (especially merit-based) to incoming freshmen, but many of these are only awarded for that first year.
- Which parts of this award do you have to pay back?
Scholarships, grants, subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans… This can all be confusing if you’ve never been through the process before. Make sure you understand which parts of the award are “free” money and which you will have to pay back.
- Which parts of this award may change if my family’s finances change?
Changes to your family’s finances (such as one of your parents getting a raise) will impact your need-based aid award as calculated by the FAFSA (which is why students must file the FAFSA each year).
- Are there GPA requirements for me to keep my scholarships?
Most renewable academic scholarships often require you to remain in “good academic standing” (having a certain minimum GPA each semester).
- How much should I expect tuition to increase each year?
So this last one isn’t necessarily a question about your financial aid award so much as it is an important one to keep in mind when considering how much you’ve been awarded. Even if you keep all your scholarships each year, most colleges increase tuition annually (to account for inflation, university-wide projects, etc.). From 2014-2015, the average increase in tuition was 3.7% at private colleges and 2.9% at public universities.
Remember, these are just a few basic guidelines to get you started, and with specific details thrown in, things can get confusing. When in doubt, reach out to an admissions counselor for assistance. Download the Scholarships eBook today for more help with getting (free!) money to pay for school in addition to your financial aid.