Advice for High School Seniors: Navigating the College Financial Aid Process

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By: Kayla Ritter Rickels, College Manager – Curriculum, CPS Office of Curriculum

Class of 2018, as you begin to receive your college acceptance letters, you will also be getting information about financial aid options. At first glance, financial aid packages may seem confusing and daunting. First, take a deep breath. Next, consult the information below and take advantage of the resources to help you successfully navigate the college financial aid process.

What is a financial aid package?

A financial aid package includes the combination of the cost of college and the financial aid you may be eligible for, including scholarships, grants, federal loans and work-study. This first letter is usually unofficial and you may need to go through a verification process with your parents or guardians. The package a school sends you is based on the information they have at that time.

How do I qualify for financial aid?

Your financial aid package will vary depending on the college or program. Each institution makes decisions based on your merits and financial need. There are multiples types of aid, including:

  • Merit-based scholarships: These are awarded based on the credentials you have earned throughout your high school career, such as your GPA, extracurricular activities and talents.
  • Need-based scholarships: These are awarded based on financial need. Typically, this funding will help to make college an affordable option for a student.
  • Grants: These are typically awarded based on financial need, but they are not loans, and therefore do not have to be repaid. Examples include federal grants (Pell Grant), state grants (such as Ohio College Opportunity Grant) and institution-based grants (such as Cincinnati Pride Grant or Be Great Grant.)
  • Work-study: This is a +program that allows a student to work on campus in exchange for money that can help cover the cost of attending college.
  • Federal student loans: These must be repaid, starting as soon as six months after the last day of enrollment in college.

Don’t forget: Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The FAFSA form is required for every student applying for need-based federal financial aid. Many colleges list deadlines in February.

Tip: The FAFSA form is submitted online, but you can download a copy ahead of time to use as your “worksheet.” Take enough time to collect the appropriate reference documents (like parents’ tax returns, birth certificate and social security card). Some colleges also will require other financial aid information on their own institutional forms.

How do I decide what’s right for me?

There are lots of ways that a college can “fit” you, and the financial aspect is an important one. You do not have to pick the college that is the least expensive, but you are encouraged to consider your ability to afford the tuition. Should you need additional advice, your high school counselor can help you and your family find the college experience that is the best fit academically, socially, emotionally and financially.

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