Financial assistance for families with college-bound students has seen big changes in timing since 2016. The new process begins much earlier with students now able to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in October of their senior year of high school.
While this new timing helps families get earlier financial information for their college decision-making, many families still feel that they are not getting enough specific cost and financial aid information early enough.
Here are two online tools that can help high school students and their families better understand the financial aid process and get an earlier and clearer picture of their family’s cost to attend college beginning as early as their freshman year in high school.
Net Price Calculator
One important tool that most colleges now provide is a Net Price Calculator. All colleges that offer federal financial assistance must offer a similar tool.
This calculator provides a planning tool to help families estimate their eligibility for all kinds of financial assistance from scholarships to grants and loans. Our employer, Bradley University, has been offering a Net Price Calculator since the 1980s, whereas the federal mandate that schools offer them started in 2008.
In addition to providing a basic calculation of likely financial assistance and scholarships for a student to attend, Bradley offers a four-year projection of costs and shows a variety of common payment plans so that a family may estimate a real monthly cost for a student.
Conversations on Costs
Families can better find the right college when colleges help them make better informed decisions at the beginning of the college search so that they don’t eliminate great value colleges based upon a reaction to sticker price and the common frustration with the complexity of the financial assistance process.
Bradley University’s “Conversations on Costs” is a series of six videos averaging five minutes in length. The first five of six topics are for every family navigating the college search process. The sixth episode walks students through the process of understanding a Bradley financial award. The hosts answer common financial assistance questions, as well as introduce basic questions that many families haven’t even though to ask.
While online tools are excellent for helping students and families understand college costs and financial aid steps, during your senior year of high school it is important to develop a relationship with the admission offices and financial aid offices at the schools that you are considering.
Take the time to meet with admission counselors who visit your high school and college fairs. Reach out to admission and financial aid counselors by phone, email or text with questions that you have. These admission and financial assistance professionals can help you by explaining the financial aid steps that may be unique to their institution.
You won’t be bothering them, it’s their job to help you through the process and the process will likely give you insight on how that college will work with you once you choose where you will enroll.