Financing Your College Future!                                    by Patti Brugman


With college acceptances fanned out like travel brochures, students now need to accept just one school by May 1st. Offers of financial aid are often a deciding factor for both the student and the family. Students who have applied wisely, should have at least one affordable choice. A good selection of college options should include schools that ask you to pay: 1) the full price, 2) the full price less merit scholarships, or 3) much less with financial aid.  Let’s talk about each of these.


·      Full Pay:  Students who apply to highly competitive schools will not be offered any kind of merit aid. The philosophy at Wellesley College and other high-end schools is that all accepted students deserve merit aid, so none is offered. At these schools, families are expected to pay the full price of education or qualify for financial aid. If they qualify for financial aid, their needs will be fully met.


·      Merit Scholarships: Students who offer a lot of passion, talent and diversity, despite their financial situation, may be offered a merit scholarship to entice them to accept a second choice school. These can be very attractive offers to families who might not qualify for financial aid, but still feel that the full cost of education is too high. Remember that for a student who is full of potential, a great education can be found at any school. Why not accept the one that offers a generous merit scholarship?


·      Financial Aid: Families are often uncomfortable talking about money, but now is the time to set aside your shyness. College financial aid officers are there to partner with you so that your student can attend their college. Let your school know about your circumstances. Graduating seniors need to read their financial aid packages carefully. You can even ask the school, “How did you determine my need?” That will open the door for discussion, and maybe more negotiations.


·      The Gap: When you receive your financial aid package, highlight the words “Grant” and “Loan.” Grants are the portion of your package that are “free money.” Loans are the part that will need to be repaid. There are many sources of money: federal dollars, state money, private funds, and work-study. Your package may include all of these, plus a Gap. The Gap is the difference between the total cost of education and the money you are receiving.  Be sure to read your full financial aid package so that you can plan for 4 successful years!


·      4-Year Guarantee: While financial aid packages may not mention this perk, be sure to investigate before making your final college decision. The cheapest college is the one that you can afford for 4 years. Wouldn’t you just love a guarantee that would help you manage your college expenses! After all, wealthy or poor, we all need to budget.