Monthly Features

The Checkered Flag and Victory Lane Are Just Ahead!

Getting everything ready to go to college is not easy.  Senior students must complete applications for admission and scholarships, write essays, ask for letters of recommendation and this is in addition to keeping their grades up.  Parents are asked to check those applications, provide financial information and be a sounding board for the student.  Parents and students are faced with the reality that college is now and decisions must be made. 

Parents who completed a College Costs Estimator
 should already have an idea of the costs of attending an Indiana college and what financial aid the student may be eligible for.  For families who have not completed a College Costs Estimator the financial aid award from the college may be their first realization of the cost of attendance.  You may receive your first award in March or April and a decision must be made no later than May 1 (for most colleges).  Right about now parents and students are wishing for a crystal ball.  We cannot offer a crystal ball, but we do have suggestions to consider.

  • The parent(s) and student both need to put a priority on completion of the degree/certificate.  Attending college for a few semesters is not the goal.  Students who have not completed their certificate/degree have the highest student loan default rate.  They do not benefit from the higher paying jobs that require a degree but still must pay off their student loans.  This has created a loan nightmare for many students without a degree.
  • Make sure you understand the financial aid award. If the student has received scholarships, are these scholarships renewable?  Are there loans included in the award?  You may want to call the university and see if you can expect to receive a similar award next year.  For help understanding your award letter we suggest the information included in the feature article from March 2013, Deciphering the Code: Reading Financial Aid Award Letters 
  • Loans are not the enemy, not understanding the payments and interest is the enemy.  Student loans provide a means for many students, who may not be able to afford college today, to receive a degree and the opportunity for a better job.  You would never sign a loan for a car or home without knowing what your payments are.  Why would you not make sure you understand the payments on a student loan?  Make an appointment with the financial aid office to discuss the loans you expect to take out for this program.  Career services or the financial aid office can advise you what income you may expect upon graduation.  Can the student afford the payments for these loans with the intended career?
  • If the financial aid award is not going to work for the family, what are the options
    • Students who are planning on a certificate/Associate Degree (two years) may want to look for other schools that offer the same program at a lower cost.  Is this certificate/degree offered at a community college where the student can commute?  Is this program offered as an internship through a future employer?
    • Students who are working towards a Bachelor’s Degree (four years) may also want to look into the option of a commutable college.  Is there a community college the student could attend for the first two years and then transfer to the 4 year college?  Students who attend a community college may want to look into working towards an Associate Degree before transferring to a four-year college. If a student is eligible for the Indiana state grant program, Indiana currently has an additional need-based grant for students who complete their Associate Degree before completing a Bachelor’s Degree.  This is a win/win, you may be eligible for the extra grant money and if something prevents you from completing the 4 year program you already have an Associate’s Degree.  There often are good jobs for applicants with an Associate’s Degree.
    • What about the family who has unusually high income the first year they must file a FAFSA?  If you do not expect to have income at this level again, what now?  You may want to appeal to the financial aid office to make adjustments to the family income.  This is called a professional judgement.  You may have to provide documents and explain the increased income.  The college may or may not consider your request.  The FAFSA must be filed every year the student attends a post-secondary program to be eligible for need-based financial aid.  Next year your award will not be based on the same income you reported on this FAFSA.  You may want to complete a College Costs Estimator and report the income you expect for subsequent years to see if the student may be eligible for need-based aid in future years.
  • Make notes about the deadlines listed on the financial aid award.  You may lose valuable scholarships due to a missed deadline.

Preparation for college can be difficult at times.  The financial aid office at the college can help you understand the financial questions and options.  College is like many other events in life, it may be difficult at times, but the rewards can be vast and amazing.  The finish line includes a certificate/diploma which could be your ticket to job security and more possibilities for professional advancement.  Make it happen!

Publication Date: April 2015