Another school year is underway, and most high school seniors are suddenly realizing just how much work they have to do to keep up with their classes and extracurricular activities, hold a part-time job, and keep up a social life with all of those “last year of school” activities. These are all important uses of your time, and they can make for some solid lifetime memories. But the one overwhelming factor you really need to concentrate on for the next few months is getting into college and figuring out how you and your family are going to pay for it.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to know your deadlines for admissions and financial aid. While it might be true that you can apply to, and get into, many great colleges well into the spring semester of your senior year, you really are not doing yourself any big favors by waiting that long. The old saying that the “early bird gets the worm” applies even when getting into college. Applications for early decision can be due as early as October or November, while early admission applications are usually due by the end of the year.
As for financial aid, you can begin applying as early as October 1, which is really not that far off in the future. 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. Some programs might have a limited amount of funding, or you could miss a critical deadline. 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 as a high school senior:
• FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Although some colleges use The College Board’s CSS Profile, or their own financial aid application, the FAFSA is the primary means of applying for federal and state aid, institutional aid, and even some college scholarships. Although you may decide to pay an advisor to help you complete the FAFSA, there is no fee to submit it and receive a determination about your eligibility for federal financial aid.
• SAR: This is the Student Aid Report. It is a summary of your FAFSA application and provides the initial insights into what your family can expect to pay to send you to college.
• 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.
• EFC: The Expected Family Contribution is the estimated amount your family will be expected to pay for your college education once all financial aid amounts are taken into consideration. It is based on your family’s specific financial situation.
• 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 made available to students based on their family’s demonstrated financial need.
• Need-Blind Admission: Some colleges make admissions decisions without looking at financial circumstances. While this might be better from an admissions approach, they might not offer enough financial aid to meet your full financial need.
• Verification: Colleges will often request additional documentation to verify information provided on the FAFSA. If your FAFSA is selected for verification, pay very close attention to required deadlines.
• Student Loans: This is money which is borrowed for the purpose of attending college. It must be repaid after graduation. In addition to federal student and parent loans, there are also private student loan lenders such as College Ave. Plan ahead as to what your anticipated earning levels and repayment responsibilities will be before taking on any student loans.
Completing college admissions forms and financial aid applications can be a challenge, but having a solid understanding of the terminology involved will help you make better choices about which college to attend.