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Evaluating a Financial Aid Letter: Whats Usually Missing

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Financial aid awards are often confusing.

Plenty of colleges and universities intentionally make financial aid awards hard to decipher to trick families into thinking that their institutions are being generous even when they aren’t.

Obfuscation is an effective way to keep parents from effectively evaluating a financial aid award.

Since we are in the season of financial aid letters, I wanted to show you how you can easily analyze a financial aid letter.

What Every Financial Aid Letter Should Contain

Here is what a good financial aid letter should contain:

  • Full cost of attendance
  • Grants and scholarships.
  • Types and amounts of loans.
  • Net amount student will have to pay after grants/merit scholarship deducted.
  • Parent and student’s Expected Family Contribution

Most financial aid letters don’t include all these elements, which truly is an outrage. If you find a financial aid letter incomplete, you should contact the school and get the missing information.

Check the EFC

I want to especially encourage you to obtain your Expected Family Contribution from the college.

Your EFC is what the financial aid formula says your household should be able to pay for one year of college. If the EFC isn’t provided and it usually isn’t, you YOU CANNOT DETERMINE if the award is a fair one or not.

Here’s a quick background on what an EFC is:

Expected Family Contribution: 10 Things to Know

Evaluating a Financial Aid Letter

I’m using a financial letter that a parent sent me several years ago from Pace University that beautifully illustrates why knowing an EFC is critical when evaluating an award letter:

What’s Inside This Financial Aid Award

When I first saw this letter, I thought Pace University had not included this family’s EFC in the letter. I later saw that it was at the very bottom of the award without including an explanation. (I underlined it in red.)

It would have been very easy for the parents and the student not to know what this EFC figure was or why it was so important.

Before I share what the significance of this figure is, let’s take a look at what Pace was offering and not offering.

Gift aid. Pace gave this student $33,075 in grants and scholarships. In the award, $7,575 of this assistance came from the federal government (Pell and SEOG grants).

Loans and work study. After the gift aid was deducted, this student would have been expected to pay $28,900 for one year of college since the total cost of attendance was $61,976.

Evaluating this financial aid award: the verdict

Was this is a good award?

You might think so since $33,075 sure looks like a lot of free money. But in reality, this is a terrible award. The reason why I know this is because the aid letter includes the family’s EFC.

This student’s EFC is $0. This means, according to the formula, that she has the financial ability to pay $0 for college. Students get an automatic EFC when their adjusted gross income is $26,000 or less.

Pace was asking this impoverished student to pay $28,900 for one year of school. Clearly that would have been financial suicide for this low-income family to take out loans to cover this cost.

In contrast, someone with a higher EFC could have been thrilled with this type of assistance.

Let’s say a wealthy student with an EFC of $60,000 applied to Pace and got a merit award of $25,000 a year. Thanks to the merit award, the student would be paying far less than what his or her household EFC suggests the family could pay.

Know Where to Find an Applicants Official EFC(s)

There are three ways to identify the relevant EFC.

No. 1:

Ideally, the EFC will be included on the award letter. All schools should include this all-important figure, but as I’ve mentioned they often dont.

No. 2:

Families can obtain the federal EFC from the federal government.

When a family files the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the formula generates its official EFC. All institutions will use this EFC to determine eligibility for federal and state aid. The vast majority of colleges will also use this figure when determining whether an applicant will qualify for their own institutional aid.

A household will discover what its federal EFC is typically three to five days after filing the FAFSA electronically. Thats when they will receive a federal document called the Student Aid Report(SAR). The EFC will be displayed in the top right-hand corner of this document.

No. 3:

A households EFC can vary for schools that also use the financial aid application called the CSS Profile. About 200 colleges, nearly all private, use the Profile information to generate its institutional EFC for a household. This EFC is used to determine which applicants will qualify for a Profile schools own financial aid dollars.

Profile colleges can personalize their aid formula by choosing from hundreds of optional questions, which means that each institution can generate a different EFC. Often these EFC figures will be quite similar, but there can be outliers.

If a Profile school does not provide the EFC on the award letter, you should contact each Profile institution for its EFC number.

Appeal based on the EFC

Once parents have their relevant EFC, they can appeal an award that is a disappointing one. Its a buyers market at many colleges so appealing an award that an EFC indicates is inadequate can definitely be worthwhile.

Resource for Evaluating a Financial Aid Award

The best way to get up to speed on evaluating a financial aid award is to use a handy cheat sheet that shows you what a model award letter looks like.

The federal government created the cheat sheet, which is called the College Financing Plan. Until recently, it was called the Shopping Sheet. (See below).

As you can see from the screenshot of the model letter, the EFC is prominently shared at the top. With the cheat sheet, there will be no confusion about what line items are loans versus free money.

Also importantly, the award letter shares what the familys net price would be.

The federal government would like all schools to use the template for their award letters, but many colleges have stubbornly continued to use their own flawed ones.

Bottom Line:

When a financial aid letter is incomplete, make sure you get all the information you need before making any decision about where your child will attend college and what you can afford.

And remember, you can always appeal an award!

Learn more:

The best way to lower your college costs is to become an empowered college shopper. The best way to become one is to enroll in my online course, The College Cost Lab.

Hundreds of high school counselors and independent college consultants have also enrolled in The College Cost Lab.

The post Evaluating a Financial Aid Letter: What’s Usually Missing appeared first on The College Solution.

By: Lynn O’Shaughnessy
Title: Evaluating a Financial Aid Letter: Whats Usually Missing
Sourced From: www.thecollegesolution.com/evaluating-a-financial-aid-letter-whats-usually-missing/
Published Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2020 21:12:36 +0000

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Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid

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Many families are facing new financial challenges in light of the coronavirus emergency, and College Confidential has fielded dozens of questions on this topic recently. To address those queries, we hosted a webinar on April 9 entitled “Paying for College Amid Changes Due to the Impact of COVID-19.”


During the event, moderated by Aaron Murphy, manager of learning and development with Inside Track, the following panelists offered their perspectives on the issue:

  • Denise Trusty, director of financial aid with Morehead State University
  • Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz, associate vice president of college partnerships with RaiseMe
  • Amy Nelson, director of sales at International Scholarship and Tuition Services
  • Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank.

Check out the following topics that the panelists discussed, along with their views of how things may unfold amid the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Family Finances Changed? Contact Your Schools

If you plan to start college in the fall as a freshman — or return to school as an existing student — and your financial situation has changed since you applied for financial aid, you should contact the colleges on your list immediately. Financial aid departments can consider appeals for more money, but must base these decisions on each individual student’s situation, Trusty said.

“I know with Morehead State, where I work, we will be doing professional judgement calls on all students who say they’ve been affected,” she noted. “We will reach out to those students to see what we can do to help them maybe obtain additional funding, additional grants, scholarships, whatever they would be eligible for. We do professional judgment all the time for our students, because things happen all the time. This year will be an especially large amount of those, I’m sure, but those are up to individual schools to make that call for their students.”

In addition, she added, the Department of Education has set aside over $6 billion for additional grants and scholarships that the universities will be able to use. “Currently, I don’t know how that’s all going to play into this,” Trusty said. “So that will be up to each individual university on how they lay those out. I know it will be beneficial, I just don’t know how available that will be to each student.”

Keep in mind that schools are accustomed to reviewing financial aid appeals, and they all have processes in place for to do so. “It is really, really important to know that schools typically leave a budget from 10 percent to 20 percent or so of their financial aid dollars for what would be called a professional judgment bucket,”Javice said. “Therefore, there is additional money to be had, and it’s up to you to request it. You should approach your school as soon as you know you might need more money, and be prepared to show supporting documentation demonstrating how your finances are different from when you filed your FAFSA initially. This might require proof of a job loss, medical bills, a cut in pay or another such issue, Javice said.

In addition, if another school gave you a better financial offer, you can petition the school that gave you the lower offer for more money, Javice noted. “This typically works better for private institutions versus public state schools, given the fact that they have a little bit more discrepancy and more dollars to put to work in terms of a tuition discount,” she added. “This is solely up to the school on a case by case basis.” In some cases, the money is distributed on a first come, first serve timeline, so don’t wait if you know you need more aid.

Although financial aid can be a stressful topic, try not to be emotional when you request more money, Javice added. You’ll get a lot further by having organized documentation to present than you would by getting angry or upset, she noted.

Consider Outside Scholarships

The coronavirus situation has changed plans not only for incoming freshmen, but also for current college students, Nelson said. “Organizations are stepping up and trying to find ways to provide additional scholarship opportunities this year,” she noted. Students should be proactive in seeking those options.

Raise Me is offering new micro-scholarships for students who are seeking additional funding sources, Kalinkewicz said. In addition, she encourages students to ask colleges for more time to make decisions, even if the school hasn’t extended its deposit process. You can always try and request additional time to get your financial aid package right, she noted.

Finding more money is not relegated to younger students, Javice added. “Adult learners comprise the biggest group of people actually going to college today,” she noted. It’s very common for people to be seeking new types of skills and going back to college to gain additional degrees. Financial aid is available to adult learners, and they may even get aid to pay such costs as rent, she added. In addition, they can seek outside scholarships or employer-matching funds to pay for their educations.

Not Necessarily Too Late to File FAFSA

Students who didn’t file a FAFSA already should do that as soon as possible so you can get access to financial aid funds, Javice said. Federal FAFSA deadlines are usually in June, but states make their own deadlines for state aid. Some states, such as New Jersey, have moved their deadlines back for this year, so check to make sure you stay on top of your deadlines.

And if you file for financial aid and you decide you don’t want it, you can always decline the financial offer or portions of that offer, Nelson said. Your best bet is to apply so you can take what you need and decline any amounts you don’t need. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should apply anyway because you could be surprised at what you’re offered. “You really need to complete that [FAFSA] process every year,” Nelson said. “The process is very easy, and jobs can come and go. It’s your safety net and you want to make sure you’ve completed it. It makes it a whole lot easier when situations like this arise.”

Some colleges also have supplemental applications to fill out for particular types of aid, so always reach out to your financial aid office for information on which documentation you should be completing, Kalinkewicz said.

Could Families — Not Schools — Be in the Driver’s Seat?

Because many merit scholarships are based on test scores and GPAs, some high school juniors are concerned that they won’t have access to those in the coming year. With test dates being canceled and grades moving to pass/fail, they fear they won’t meet the criteria to earn such scholarships.

“It’s clear to me that colleges and universities know the extraordinary circumstances we’re under,” Nelson said. “All schools are leaning forward and considering all options as the situation develops. I would continue to encourage juniors to stay engaged and stay informed.” You should also watch to see what happens with test dates, she said. The ACT and SAT dates could change, and some schools may forego the need for a test score altogether, she added.

In addition, some merit scholarships that have traditionally been based on test scores may become test optional, Kalinkewicz noted.

Keep in mind that in many cases, families are in the driver’s seat rather than having the colleges be in charge, Javice said. Some schools have lost revenue and are very eager for students right now, “so if you are scared because you thought you could never get into a specific school from an admission criteria standpoint, this is your year to stretch, this is your year to think about the schools that are your reach category and go for it, because schools need the money and need the students. So the power that used to be in an admissions office is in you, the student or the family’s hands,” she said.

She also advises juniors to request application waivers from schools to save the $50 to $100 or so per application that they would normally pay. The schools may say no, but it won’t hurt to ask, she advised. “Persistence is key when dealing with schools,” Javice noted.

Federal Student Loans Payment Suspended

As many families are aware, payments on federal student loans are automatically suspended from March 13 through September 30, 2020 thanks to the government’s CARES Act. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly for families that have multiple children in various stages of the college process.

“You will stop paying your loans and you will have zero interest from now until September 30, and that’s important for parents to know,” Nelson said regarding existing federal student loans. “If you had an auto draft, the auto draft has been shut off and will not continue. You can, however, continue to make those payments if you’d like, and any interest you had before March 13, once that interest is paid up, all your payments will go directly toward your principal.” She advises families with federally-backed loans to check with their loan servicing agents, because they have a lot of information for both parent and student borrowers on how the CARES Act will impact payments for the next six months.

Student Job Gone? Colleges Might Help

For students who expect to earn money via part-time or full-time work to pay for college, but can’t do so due to the coronavirus, colleges may have resources to help. “There are many colleges and universities that have put together emergency grants for students to cover expenses that they were maybe not expecting because of COVID-19,” Nelson said. “They are making accommodations to try and make up for that lost income for students.”

Trusty said Morehead State is continuing to pay students who were on federal work-study. “If they had a job, we are still paying them right now as if they were working, although they are not. In the summer, those funds will be flipped over to emergency grant funds. So we will make sure that our students are covered and can live as if they were employed with the work-study position.”

Some colleges have even made remote work available to students, Kalinkewicz added. Therefore, contact your financial aid office to determine if any accommodations are available to make up for lost student income whenever possible.

Consider Other Options to Save

If you are seeking ways to save money on college, you should also consider other resources, whether that means less expensive colleges, in-state options or potentially transferring down the road, Janice said. You can also save money by taking classes at a community college to pay a lower cost for your credits that can be transferred to a four-year college later.

“If you have that target institution in mind — maybe you’ve already been admitted there but your family has determined a year of community college will really help stretch things further — work on articulation agreements or a plan so you are taking the right classes that actually have the ability to transfer toward the degree you want at your target institution, not necessarily just as credit,” Kalinkewicz said.

In addition, many colleges offer merit aid for transfer students, she added. So always look for every potential financial aid and scholarship resource to best maximize your package and allow your dollars to stretch as far as possible.

Resource: To review the entire hour-long webinar, you can watch the replay here.

Share Your Thoughts

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

By: Torrey Kim
Title: Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-amid-covid-19
Published Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 15:22:20 +0000

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Former Georgetown AO Demystifies Elite Admissions in New Book

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No matter how much research you’ve done, you’ve probably encountered unanswered questions about the elite college admissions process, which is often shrouded in mystery. One former college admissions officer aims to demystify that with her new book, Hacking Elite College Admissions: 50 Surprising Insights on the College Application Process.


Gaelle Pierre-Louis read thousands of applications during her time at Georgetown University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and decided to take some of the insights she gleaned there and put them into book form. Her new release also features tips and strategies from people who have worked in the admission offices of schools ranging from Harvard to Johns Hopkins and beyond.

College Confidential sat down with Pierre-Louis to ask some questions about how students can best position themselves for success during college admissions season.

Here’s How Admission Officers Read Your Rec Letters

College Confidential: In the book, you note that admission officers not only read every line of students’ recommendation letters, “but they also read between the lines.” Can you explain to applicants what that means, and what types of things admission officers like to see in rec letters?

Gaelle Pierre-Louis: We read between the lines for two reasons: To tell if the person actually knows you and to evaluate what that person actually thinks about your candidacy. I highly recommend meeting with guidance counselors and sending them your resume and a brief paragraph with your accomplishments. Make it easier for your recommenders so that they can, in turn, make your life easier as well.

We review thousands of recommendation letters from teachers and guidance counselors every year. When you read so many letters, you will inevitably be able to identify trends over time. Not only that, but we are able to see the letters and compare them with what others from your school are getting. Some guidance counselors will have seven kids applying to a certain college, but six of the letters will say the same generic information and then the seventh one will include certain phrases like “this student is one of the best within my 23 years of college counseling” or “this student will receive my highest recommendation.” There will be key words that differentiate that recommendation letter from others. It is important to put your best foot forward when meeting with your guidance counselor so that they can write a great letter on your behalf.

When evaluating your recommendation letters from your teachers, we want to see one from a rigorous course in which you performed well. You do not necessarily have to get an “A” in that class to get a great letter. For example, if the teacher says you might have struggled in your first exam, but you took opportunities to stay after class and you did extra homework to eventually get a “B,” that tells us a lot about your grit and tenacity, which are skills that we want you to have in order to survive college. We want to know how you will do in the classroom based on the rigorous courses you took in high school.

Low Stats? Here’s What Might Move the Needle

CC: The book describes the holistic admissions process that Georgetown and other schools use. Can you share a tip on how students can offset lower-than-average stats by highlighting other aspects of their applications?

GPL: Yes, schools tend to be truly holistic when evaluating your application. To be honest, for students who have below-average stats, usually an essay or recommendation letter is not going to move the needle on their application. From my experience, it is the depth of their extracurricular activities, timeline of the application (meaning early or regular decision) and their interview that weighs more in those cases.

Check How Your Extracurriculars Are Viewed

CC: When it comes to extracurricular activities (ECs), are admission officers drawn to unusual or interesting ones? Or is it more important to show a several-year commitment to the same ECs, no matter how common they are?

GPL: It truly does depend on the institutional priorities set by the university for that application cycle. One year, we might need more students on our debate team and another year, we might be seeking students who play percussion instruments for the orchestra. If it is something we need and you are involved in it and someone can vouch for you, it matters!

Make the Essay About You

CC: Are there any essay topics that you would advise students to never, ever write about?

GPL: I feel as if most essay topics that students think are original, we have seen them so many times. So there is not anything that I would advise students not to write about. This year, due to COVID-19, I do believe that students might choose to write about COVID- 19 and how it has affected the student, which is great, but it will not help you stand out since everyone will be doing the same thing. I would write about it in a supplementary essay and not the personal one, but it truly depends on the situation.

The most important thing with essays is that it concerns you. You would be surprised how many students talk about other people in their college essays. That does not help us understand who you are as an applicant. As far as topics, you could truly write about anything. We have probably seen the topic before, but it is more about the perspective you bring with the topic.

Share Your Thoughts

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

——————

By: Torrey Kim
Title: Former Georgetown AO Demystifies Elite Admissions in New Book
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/elite-college-admissions-tips
Published Date: Wed, 12 Aug 2020 16:06:10 +0000

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Tackling The Common Application Essay

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Rising high school seniors, we haven’t forgotten about you! The COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed the realm of higher education. It seems as though all we have been hearing and reading about the past five months or so is how the coronavirus has affected, is affecting, and will affect almost every aspect of our lives. Many of us have sought ways to escape the onslaught of bad news.


If you are about to begin your senior year of high school, whether in person or online, and you plan to go to college, your focus may have been more on the college process instead of the COVID process. Colleges and universities across America have been fully sidetracked, trying to make sense out of how to continue providing higher education to their student bodies, while wrestling with an increasing burden of safety precautions, virus testing plans, unexpected expenses, teacher and student protests, and virus outbreaks among staff. That’s just a short list of their pandemic-related woes.

However, the college process cycle continues, and this year’s high school seniors will be applying to colleges and universities just as they have every year, even during world wars, depressions and other major national concerns. So I won’t be writing about the novel coronavirus today, but rather, about one important aspect of your college application process: the Common Application essay.

In addition to your academic record and recommendations, the essay can push a borderline applicant into the “Admit” column if executed properly. So it’s time to start thinking about this, if you haven’t already started.

You will most likely be using the Common Application for at least some (if not all) of your target schools. Chances are, even if you don’t end up using the Common App (unlikely), you will still need to write an essay on a general topic such as those that the Common App requires.

Get to Know the Common App Prompts

Here are the 2020-2021 Common Application essay prompts. They are the same as last year’s:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Check These Resources for Guidance

To help you get started thinking about how and what to write, I’ve listed a dozen of my College Confidential articles about writing application essays. You don’t have to read all of them, just find several that appeal to you, then read and learn. (Note that some of the articles reference older Common Application prompts, but my advice also applies to the current prompts.)

1. Great Common Application Essays

“There are myriad topics in your world … right under your nose. Use them!”

2. Using Humor in Your College Essay

“Titles can lend heft to an essay if they are carefully thought out …”

3. More about Essays

“Those are just three examples of great college application essays.”

4. Thoughts on Application Essays

“Keeping all this in mind, construct a list of “little known habits, hobbies and other weird stuff ” about yourself. Then, work to shape an aspect (or aspects) of that list into a winning statement.”

5. More On Essays

“You should be able to see the advantage of using not only picturesque imagery but also one of my favorite essay elements: humor.”

6. More Essay Insights

“Do you have some kind of challenge in your life that you have worked to overcome, like Cheryl? If so, give some thought to writing about it in your college applications.”

7. Adventures in Essayland

“As always, remember: Don’t write what you think they want to hear; write what you want to say!”

8. The Application Essay: Think About It

“Essay ideas are everywhere; we just don’t see them.”

9. Essays with A Smile

“Even the brightest students many times have difficulty conjuring decent topics and gathering their compositional forces to put together a winning set of sentences and paragraphs. So, what’s a frustrated essayist to do then?”

10. Application Essays

“The lesson here for essay writers is to look around your everyday lives carefully. Scenes like those immortalized here in “Banana Girl” happen all the time.”

11. Applying You to Your Application Essays

“What you can see in these entries is the contrast between writers who write what they want to say (the winners) and those who write what the contest judges want to hear (the losers).”

Make Sure Your Voice Shows

What you’ll see in the samples I posted in the above articles can show you the natural style incorporated by the writers. Their essays flow smoothly and don’t have an “academic” feel about them. When you read them, you can almost hear the writers speaking. In other words, their “voice” is natural and not at all affected by formality or overblown usage. They don’t use big words just for the sake of impressive vocabulary. Big words don’t impress admissions committees. A natural voice, convincingly presented, does.

The best essays help you to stand out in a crowd and reveal who you are and how you think. Sure, you can write a good essay about anything, but an essay often has the most impact if it highlights something that is unique or unusual about you.

Finally, try to have some fun with this. I know that “fun” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think about your college essays, but you may find that once you get into it, you’ll actually enjoy expressing yourself!

——————

By: Dave Berry
Title: Tackling The Common Application Essay
Sourced From: insights.collegeconfidential.com/how-to-write-common-app-essay
Published Date: Thu, 13 Aug 2020 12:24:38 +0000

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