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Analyzing A College: Is The College Need Based Financial Aid Friendly?

Category: College Money Strategy
1 comment Analyzing a college for need based financial aid

Is The College Need Based Financial Aid Friendly?

Analyzing a college from a College Money Strategy™ viewpoint is extremely important if you are trying to get as much free money for college as possible. Each college has a profile and my basic premise is that the profile you should be looking for are colleges that have deep pockets and have proven to give students lots of money. This is the first step. You must then narrow this selection to colleges where your student is in the top 25% of incoming freshmen. Now you have a list of colleges where you have the potential to get lots of free money. Lastly, you can filter this list by the criteria your student is looking for in a college (most students do this first). This article is the beginning of a series where I will reveal how to drill down into a college’s “stats” so you can spot a college where your student has the greatest potential to get free money for college.

Before I start let me also say this. Most people do this type of analysis with many things in their everyday life. When you go shopping you analyze and compare items based on its value versus its cost. For example, you may compare many flat screen TVs before you purchase the one that you believe not only gives you the functionality you want but also gives you the most value for the price. You do the same thing when you buy a car or book a vacation. The cost of college will be the single biggest purchase you will make other than your home. Isn’t it worth doing the same kind of analysis for such a large expense?

Federal Need Based Financial Aid

I’m going to start this series revealing how to spot a college with the greatest potential for need based aid. The first thing you should know is that all colleges are not equal when it comes to awarding need based aid. Some are more financial aid friendly than others. You should have already calculated your expected family contribution (EFC). If you haven’t you can go to my Resources page and find the EFC calculator. Look at your EFC number! You should immediately realize that if you are looking at colleges that cost less than your EFC you WILL NOT qualify for need based aid. If the colleges you are likely to apply to cost more than your EFC then you are likely to qualify for need based aid. Common sense right? So if you qualify for need based aid you need to make sure you are applying to colleges that offer the most opportunity! This just makes sense but parents and students just don’t know they should be looking at it this way. You need to look at it this way! Let’s start by looking at Federal Student Aid. Not all colleges offer Federal Student Aid and for those that do they may not offer every type of Federal Student Aid. Here’s a checklist of items you must look for when it comes to Federal “need based” Student Aid:

  • Not all colleges and career programs offer Federal Student Aid. Make sure your list includes colleges that do!
  • Even if a college does offer Federal Student Aid, they may not offer all types of Federal Student Aid. Here are the ones colleges may or may not offer. You should make sure the colleges you will be applying to offer these:
    • Federal Work Study
    • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
    • Perkins Loan
  • Call the financial aid office and ask if they exercise “Professional Judgment”. Not all colleges do. Professional Judgment is a process where the financial aid officer actually alters your EFC in order to increase your financial need giving them the ability to award more  Federal aid. This is especially important if you have extenuating circumstances that did not show up when you filed your FAFSA such as a job loss, divorce, large medical expenses for a family member, private school tuition for siblings, etc.

Is Your State Offering Need Based Financial Aid?

Analyzing a college’s friendliness when it comes to need based aid includes knowing if they accept the need based aid offered by their state. Many states offer need based aid to resident students who attend an “eligible” instate college. Although most colleges will offer what the state is providing you must verify that the colleges you are applying to will. Do not assume. Remember, a big part of this process is eliminating mistakes. It’s as simple as contacting the financial aid office and simply asking.

Is The College Offering Need Based Financial Aid?

If you really want to know if a college is need based aid friendly then check to see if the college itself is offering any need based financial aid. Again, not all colleges offer this type of aid so it is important to do your homework. You can find this information easily by visiting the college’s website. Most colleges will have a webpage that will disclose what is offered in financial aid. Where else can you find this information?

Where Do You Find The Info?

The first place, which I already mentioned, is the college’s website. I would also contact the financial aid office directly to confirm and verify the website information as well as to ask questions that are not answered on the website. As an example, below is a screenshot of Villanova’s Financial Assistance page. You can see that need based grants are listed first and that Villanova offers their own need based aid called the Villanova University Grant.

Analyzing A College 2.Wheretofindmoneyforcollege

Another great place for information is college search engines. Many will include filters telling you how financial “need based” aid friendly a college has proven to be. Let me show you an example from the college navigator search engine. The example below is Belmont University in Nashville TN. I’ve highlighted certain areas. The categories you want to look for when it comes to need based financial aid include:

  • Any student financial aid – this will include all aid awarded but is important to know
  • Federal Grants, Pell Grants and other Federal Grants – this includes all the free Federal Student Aid
  • Federal Student Loans – This will include need based student loans offered by the Federal Gov’t

Let’s do a brief analysis of the information we have. The first category is “any student financial aid”, 82% of incoming freshman for the 2011-2012 year received some type of financial aid. Not bad! But only 17% received Federal grants averaging $4,327. This is the free money doled out by the Feds. This percentage could be low because many incoming freshman may not qualify. Federal student loans are mostly need based and 71% received an average of $5,450. From a need based perspective it appears students are getting aid.

At first glance it appears that Belmont is aid friendly but you will only know if you dig into the number further as well as compare Belmont to other similar colleges. As you review profiles for many colleges you will begin to get a feel for what an aid friendly college looks like. My experience is that Belmont is not very aid friendly. The cost of attendance for the 2011-2012 year was $39,930 and you can see that Federal grants only covered about 10%. Now we know that Federal grants will not be high dollar amounts but even if you include the grant or scholarship aid which averaged $11,060 (which includes merit aid) you can see that free financial aid at Belmont may only cover less than 1/3rd of the cost. We are looking for deep pocket colleges willing to dole it out and this profile is not as strong as many others.

Analyzing A College.Wheretofindmoneyforcollege

Need The Info!

You need to know this information for every college you are applying to AND you should only be applying to colleges where the opportunities are stacked in your favor. If you know you qualify for need based aid make sure you apply to colleges that offer all the need based aid available through Federal Student aid and through the State you reside in. Also make sure the college itself has a good offering of need based aid as well.

In the next article in the series I will explore merit based aid. I will show you what you need to be looking for so you can spot a college that is “merit based” financial aid friendly!


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  • Sonya

    Awesome info.