Whether you are a high school senior just deciding on which financial aid offer to accept or a high school junior who is planning summer trips to visit prospective colleges, the financial aid office is a great resource. The financial aid director is an incredible source of knowledge, but you have to be able to ask the right questions to get answers that can help your financial cause. Here are three intelligent questions to ask a financial aid director:
1. How much does it really cost to attend this college: It can be frustrating to try to come up with cost figures because students all have individual financial circumstances, but the financial aid director will probably have the best understanding of the closest dollar estimate. Start with a complete understanding of what it really costs to attend this college, not just tuition, room and board. You need to understand the typical costs for fees, books, living and travel expenses as well. Find out whether grants and scholarships are renewable, and what the anticipated increase is for next year’s tuition so you can plan ahead. From this amount you can subtract the amount of financial aid most students receive that does not have to be repaid, such as grants and scholarships. Even though it may look like all of your costs are covered, be sure you ask how much of the financial aid offer is student loans that have to be repaid after you graduate.
2. What are my chances of realistically being able to repay my student loans: You have to get a clear picture of whether this school is committed to helping you succeed. Find out how many students from the freshman class typically stay after the first semester, and ask how long it usually takes to graduate. Inquire about the percentage of graduating seniors who land jobs and what their average income is for various degrees. This will help you determine whether you will actually be able to earn enough money to repay any student loans you might need.
3. What else do you suggest for students in my particular situation: Most financial aid directors have years of experience and they have worked with students in just about any financial situation imaginable. Explain the specifics of your financial background, let the director know if anything is anticipated to change within the next year, and ask about what other students have done to achieve success.
The financial aid director can be a wonderful source of information but if you are still not sure how to proceed, you can always work with a professional college financial aid advisor to make sure you understand all the implications of the financial decisions you make. Your advisor can help you put together a list of intelligent questions and will also help you decipher the answers. If you need help coming up with questions for the financial aid director, contact College Financial Aid Advisors (CFAA).