Financial aid is help for meeting college costs, both direct educational costs (tuition, fees, and books) and personal living expenses (room and board, personal expenses, and travel). Broadly, there are two kinds of financial aid available, aid based on need, as determined by the College Scholarship Service, federal guidelines, or institutional policies, and no-need scholarships awarded for academic excellence, athletic prowess, artistic talent, leadership, or other criteria.
Need-Based Financial Aid
Individual colleges determine financial aid packages based upon the information provided by you on several forms -- the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE, and the college’s own institutional forms. These forms will help the financial aid office determine the estimated family contribution (EFC) to the student’s educational costs. The difference between the cost of attending the college and the EFC is the need. The individual college will put together a financial aid "package" designed to meet that need. At most colleges, a package will include a combination of grant, loan, and employment.
Grants are funds that do not have to be repaid. Grants are usually awarded on the basis of need alone and can come from a variety of sources -- Pell Grants (federal money), state grants (usually available only to students attending college in their home state, such as Cal Grants), and grant money from the college's own resources.
Loans must be repaid, generally after you have graduated or left school, and usually have lower interest rates than commercial loans. The amount of these federal student loans are capped to ensure that students are not overburdened with debt when they leave school. There are also federal loans available to parents if their child is enrolled in school at least half-time and makes satisfactory academic progress. Parents may borrow up to the difference between the cost of education and other financial aid awarded. The loan, which is not based on parents’ income, has a variable interest rate and repayment begins immediately.
College Work Study Program involves earning money as payment for a job, usually one arranged for you by the college. Students normally work up to ten hours a week in an on-campus job selected by the student. The money comes to the student in the form of a paycheck and can be used for college expenses.
Not every college can meet full need for every student; it is increasingly common for a student to be admitted to a college but denied the full amount of financial aid needed to attend. This practice is called “gapping.” Most of the best endowed colleges guarantee to meet 100% of demonstrated need. However, some of these may consider financial need in making a small percentage of their admission decisions. Institutions who don’t consider need are employing what’s called a “need blind” admission policy. Because “need aware” schools only consider need in a very few decisions, it is still a good idea to apply for aid even if you are not sure you will qualify.
Applying for Financial Aid at Colleges and Universities
All students and parents applying for aid at any public college or university will have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which comes from the Department of Education. This cannot be filed until after January 1 but should be filed as soon as possible after that date. It will call for figures from your current year's Tax Return, so parents should prepare taxes as early as possible. The form is sent to a central processor who analyzes it and sends the results, called a needs analysis, to the colleges and scholarship programs that have been designated by the applicant.
All students and parents applying for aid at California colleges or universities, public or private, should apply for California State Scholarships, commonly known as Cal Grants. Necessary information considered for a Cal Grant is included on the FAFSA. An additional form, the GPA Verification Form, is also required and is available to download at http://www.calgrants.org/ .
Many families applying to private colleges will have to also file the CSS PROFILE, a customized financial aid form produced by the College Scholarship Service through the College Board. The PROFILE is tailored to reflect the specific requirements of the various colleges to which the student is applying and from which aid is being sought. There is a fee for the preliminary registration form in addition to a charge for each institution listed in a student’s PROFILE. You must check the college’s application materials to see if the PROFILE is required and when it must be submitted. Each college has its own deadline.
In addition to these standardized forms, some colleges still require short forms of their own, and some will request a certified copy of the most recent 1040 form.
Four to six weeks after you submit your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) indicating your expected family contribution. The colleges that you designate will receive this information as well. They will use this information in combination with the data they collect from the PROFILE and/or their own forms to come up with a financial aid package. If you feel that any package is inappropriate, it is best to contact the financial aid administrator at the colleges directly. They will be interested in any supplemental data you may wish to provide. Letters explaining any unusual or special circumstances affecting the family's financial situation are welcomed by financial aid offices and should be sent directly to financial aid offices of the individual institutions.
Aside from the National Merit program and competitive scholarships sponsored by businesses and community service organizations, "no-need" awards are generally awarded by an institution specifically for use at that institution. They might also be sponsored by a religious, ethnic, or professional group for students who belong to that religious or ethnic group or aspire to that profession. Some businesses also sponsor scholarships for the children of employees.
Students should inquire wherever they apply about no-need scholarships. Alumni associations at the University of California campuses, for example, sponsor no-need scholarships for which outstanding students can compete. Some excellent private colleges have no-need scholarships for outstanding students. Students should inquire at their churches or synagogues and parents should inquire at their places of employment or in their civic groups about scholarships available from those sources.
The Deans’ Office has information on computer-aided searches for outside scholarships. One of the best ways of obtaining this information is visiting the www.fastweb.com website; this is a free service, sponsored by corporations advertising on the site, which allows students to find scholarships that match their individual profiles.
Most private colleges to which Harvard-Westlake students apply do not award athletic scholarships. Those colleges and universities that award athletic scholarships have a limited number, and, unless a student is among the players most sought after, he or she is not likely to be awarded an athletic grant.
ROTC scholarships, only for use at colleges and universities with a ROTC program, cover tuition and books and provide an additional monthly stipend. Students interested in these scholarships should begin investigating them immediately.