Don’t Let The Price Tag Scare You: How Financial Aid Offices Work
By Liz Schick
Your child is off to college and you are hoping for some financial aid to get you through these very expensive years. There’s the basic FAFSA form—and then what? Can your child qualify for any academic merit scholarships? How do you find out? Here are some tips from financial aid department heads at area institutions.
According to Ryan Forsythe, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Worcester State University, “First, understand that at almost all state universities around the country, the amount of non-federal and state financial aid is extremely limited. At Worcester State, we offer limited financial aid beyond this. We rely heavily on the FAFSA to provide financial aid application information, and we use that to determine students’ eligibility for federal and state types of financial aid.”
Bentley University in Waltham requires the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile in addition to the FAFSA. Donna Kendall, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management, explains that, “Many private institutions, with a lot of their own institutional funds to award, require the CSS Profile as it uses a different need analysis approach.”
Only the FAFSA form is required for need-based aid at UMass Lowell. “All incoming students are automatically evaluated for most merit scholarships based on their admissions application and academic performance,” says Joyce McLaughlin, Associate Dean of Enrollment and Financial Aid. “We urge students to apply through our Early Action Admissions Process, as the majority of merit scholarships are awarded to this class.”
All three institutions concur that students’ information on admissions applications does affect their eligibility for merit-based scholarships. The information used is almost exclusively based on a student’s high school or college transfer GPAs, and for students with standardized test scores, it’s based on SAT or ACT scores.
“We encourage students to stay in close touch with every one of the college financial aid offices the student is applying to, because the information each college requires can be different,” says Forsythe. He also reiterates that there is no such thing as staying in touch too closely. “We often have in-person phone conversations, but some families are more comfortable with email. If someone calls every week, that’s okay, too. Either way is fine. Most financial aid offices are willing to have those conversations.”
“Don’t have sticker shock by the total price of what these four years are going to cost,” implores Kendall. “Since approximately 65 percent of Bentley students are awarded some amount of gift aid, meaning they don’t have to pay it back, most families should think about what their costs will be after financial aid. Of course, there are other factors—like graduation rates, placement rates, and starting salaries to consider when figuring out the total benefit to your student. It’s what we call your ROI factor: what’s the return on your investment for your child?”
Twenty-two percent of UMass Lowell incoming freshmen receive merit awards, while approximately 77 percent apply for financial aid. Most merit scholarships are renewable every four years. “Plus,” McLaughlin says, “about 250 scholarships from outside sources are listed on uml.edu. In addition, we have over 400 university endowed scholarships listed on the website. Additionally, our Co-Op Scholars Program allows students to work with a faculty member on a research learning experience for a stipend of $4,000.”
The bottom line is, you must be sure of what each school your student is applying to requires, and make sure the proper documents are submitted. Each of these department heads encourage families to not hesitate to call or meet with a financial aid office representative—as often as necessary—so you can take advantage of all the gift aid available to your student. There is more available than you think.