The Essentials of Financial Aid            by Patti Brugman

By Patti Brugman

         One of the most frequently asked questions we hear is, “Will I qualify for financial aid?”  Since we are not financial counselors, I always advise parents to go to and estimate their EFC, Estimated Family Contribution.  The easy-to-use financial calculator will ask a few simple questions and then give you an estimated dollar amount that you will be expected to pay for college.

         After that exercise, the unknown factors that remain are what you will actually be awarded when you apply for FAFSA in January.  If your family is truly eligible for financial aid, the amount that you will be granted will be based on a much more complicated formula than the one used to estimate your award on Collegeboard. 

         The final result will be an award comprised of grants, loans, and merit money. The merit portion of the award will be adjusted by the financial aid officers at each college separately. The basic FAFSA award will be the same no matter which institution you are applying to, but to be sure, call your colleges.  Talk to their financial aid personnel and get the story straight. 

         Next, reconsider where to apply to college.  If you are applying to “reach” schools and hoping to get in, you might qualify for a scholarship, but don’t expect any merit money.  If you are applying to “target” schools that might really want someone with your brainpower and skill sets, expect a nice merit package.  Once again, merit money will be offered to students regardless of their ability to pay.

         For some of our families who make too much to qualify for “need” based scholarships, loans will help them pay for college.  In addition, merit money is the big bonus that so many families are hoping for.  Why take out loans if a college somewhere is willing to pay for your education by offering you significant merit money?

         Students need to understand how to finance their education through their family’s resources, scholarships, loans, and merit money.  If your family will struggle over the high cost of college, take a good look at the schools that want you, perhaps more than you want them.  A good education can be had anywhere. Conversely, we hear of students who choose the most expensive school they are accepted to and then have to leave after freshman or sophomore year because the family can no longer afford it. 

         Think now. Include “financial safety” schools on your list.  You’ll be glad you did!


Register now for your FAFSA pin.  To do this go to: As soon as January 1st 2013, you will be able to input your financial information for 2012.


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