These days, you hear all sorts of horror stories about the rising costs of communications major college and the impossibility of paying for it. Although obtaining financial aid is trickier than in the past, it is not impossible. Generally, financial aid comes in the form of grants, scholarships, and student loans. Grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid, while loans do. Applying early, filling out your information completely and accurately, and watching deadlines carefully are all ways to lessen the trauma of the application process.
To be eligible for almost all financial aid, you or your parents will need to complete one or both of two eligibility forms. Just who fills out the forms is determined by several different factors (your age, marital status, service in the armed forces, etc.), so check the form to see whose information the financial aid decision will be based on. Generally speaking, if you are under 25 your parents’ information is required; if you are over 25, you can use your own financial information.
By the way, anytime you run across the term “finaid”, that simply means financial aid.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form most commonly used by colleges and universities in the United States. The preferred method of filling out this form is online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The other form is the CSS Profile, a service of the College Board (www.collegeboard.com), which is used by roughly 600 colleges and universities, mostly private. A major difference between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile is that the Profile takes home equity (value of your house) into account when determining your ability to pay, while the FAFSA does not. Check with your college to see which form it uses. Even if you do not believe that you will qualify for federal aid, colleges use one or both of these forms to determine your aid package.
The FAFSA may not be filled out prior to January 1 of the year you are applying for aid, but it should be completed as soon as possible after that because all monies are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. You can apply early for the PIN number that you will need and look at a blank form to know what type of questions you will be answering. You can also inquire about your college’s priority deadline for applying for aid. After submitting your aid application, contact your college to make sure it received your information.
After your FAFSA is processed, you will receive a summary statement in the form of a Student Aid Report (SAR). Eligibility for most financial aid is based on a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is based on the answers you gave on your FAFSA. This is an estimate of your capacity to contribute to college expenses: The lower the EFC the higher the financial aid award. The EFC is usually subtracted from the cost of attending the college or university to determine your financial need. If COA is greater than the EFC, then you are determined to have need.
Review your SAR carefully and make any needed corrections. If changes are necessary, return the corrected form to the address indicated and make sure you send a corrected copy to the financial aid office of the college where you intend to pursue your communications degree. The college will review your SAR and put together the package of financial aid it can offer. Offers usually arrive in April either by an email or offer letter.
You may have some negotiation room if the college really “wants” you. For example, if you received a better aid package from another school, you can request a review from the college you really want to attend. Often they have the ability to increase their offer. Beware – many colleges will want to see the award letter from the competing college, so be honest.
Finally, because your financial aid situation can change from year to year, you must apply for aid each year while you are working on your communications degree. Always keep copies of forms you submit to the school, government or lender during the financial aid process.