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Demystifying Financial Aid: Key Terms Every High School Senior Should Know

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Demystifying Financial Aid: Key Terms Every High School Senior Should Know

For many high school seniors, the reality about balancing school, life, and even work may be settling in as the first month of classes finishes up. Work, school, and a social life are all important uses of their time – especially during their “last” year of school. But, for many of these students, they’re about to enter a new realm of responsibilities: college applications. The next few months are crucial to determining where high school seniors will go to college next fall. Not only that, but they have to figure out how they’re going to pay for it all.  As families begin to work on financial aid applications, it’s easy to get caught up in the jargon you see. That’s why we’re talking about must know financial aid terms every high school senior (and their parents) should know.

When to Apply to College

In recent blogs, we’ve talked about how important it is to know your deadlines for college admissions and financial aid. While some students wait because it is still possible to get into a school in the spring, the reality is that the fall application cycle is the best bet. The earlier you apply, the better chance you have for entry and financial aid. Applications for early decision can be due as early as October or November. Regular admission applications are usually due by the end of the year. 

When to Apply for Financial Aid

As for financial aid, you can begin applying as early as October 1st with the CSS Profile. The FAFSA will come online in December for the 2024-2025 application cycle… Neither of which are that far off anymore. While you don’t have to apply that early, you want to make sure you are eligible to receive the maximum amount of financial aid. However, some programs might have a limited amount of funding. Or, you could miss a critical deadline if you wait too long to apply. 

Once you familiarize yourself with all the necessary deadlines, it is also helpful to have a good working knowledge of the applicable terminology. 

Here are the most important financial aid terms you should know:

  • FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Some colleges use The College Board’s CSS Profile, or their own financial aid application to gather information. For most schools and students, the FAFSA is the primary means of applying for federal and state aid, institutional aid, and even some college scholarships. You may decide to pay an advisor to help you with the FAFSA. But, remember: there is no fee to submit it and receive a determination about your eligibility for federal financial aid.
  • COA: Cost of Attendance, or “sticker price,” is the amount a student might be expected to pay to attend a particular college, before financial aid.
  • Net Cost: This is the amount most students pay after financial aid and other grants and scholarships.
  • Student Aid Index (SAI) The Student Aid Index is a measure of the family’s financial strength, namely its ability to pay for college.
  • Merit Aid: This is usually some type of grant or scholarship provided by the college based on a student’s abilities in academics, athletics, arts, or some other area.
  • Need-Based Financial Aid: These are grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities and loans that are available to students based on their family’s demonstrated financial need.
  • Need-Blind Admission: Some colleges make admissions decisions without looking at financial circumstances. 
  • Verification: Colleges will often request additional documentation to verify information provided on the FAFSA or CSS Profile. If you are selected for verification, pay very close attention to deadlines.
  • Student Loans: This is money which is borrowed for the purpose of attending college. It must be repaid after graduation. 

Completing college admissions forms and financial aid applications can be a challenge. With more knowledge of the financial aid terms and what to expect, you’ll complete them confidently in no time! 

Who We Are

CFAA helps with the financial aid process, from completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile to reviewing the SAR, responding to requests for verification, comparing financial aid offers and understanding student loan options. Schedule a 15 Minute Power Chat to learn more about finding ways to pay for college.

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