What families with college-bound students need to know this spring

Recent changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

What families with college-bound students need to know this spring

Perhaps even more nerve-wracking than waiting for your child’s college acceptance letters is learning whether they’ve been awarded financial aid. Recent changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) designed to simplify the process have led to unforeseen hiccups and technical glitches, causing academic institutions to delay sending out financial aid award letters. However, once you finally get the results, it can give your family a better idea of what to do next.

“Our research shows that for a majority of parents, figuring out how to pay for college was the ‘road to college’ activity that caused them the most stress. By making a financial plan and prioritizing it, you can be well prepared to avoid the most common bumps in the road,” explains Angela Colatriano, chief marketing officer, College Ave.

Colatriano recommends using the spring to teach your child these valuable financial skills: how to set up a budget, how to pay bills and how to manage credit. If your family will potentially be borrowing to finance college, students should also gain an understanding of how loans work, and how the different terms of the loan will affect their monthly payments and overall loan cost.

Speaking of budget, you should set a realistic budget for yourself. A recent College Ave survey found that in addition to helping pay for tuition and housing costs, parents also contribute to their child’s phone bill (65%), health insurance (61%), food and groceries (42%), cable and internet bill (35%) and transportation (32%). Be realistic about which expenses you can afford and where you want to ask your child to chip in.

Decode Award Letters

Financial aid award letters can look different for each school. Familiarize yourself with their components so that when they arrive, you’ll be ready to decipher them. Here’s what to look for:

1. Free money: The award letter will list whether your student is eligible for scholarships and grants (sometimes called Merit or Gift Aid). This is money you typically don’t need to pay back.

2. Federal Work-Study: Your child might be eligible for Federal Work-Study jobs. While jobs aren’t guaranteed, they can be a good opportunity to help cover educational expenses.

3. Student Loans: Schools will list any federal loans your child is eligible to receive. Helpful hint: They may be grouped with scholarships and grants. You should also note whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized. Because unsubsidized loans accrue interest while your student is enrolled and during deferment periods, this will affect the overall loan cost.

4. Other factors: Check if awards being offered are for all four years and understand what your child will need to do to continue being eligible for them, year-to-year.

To get an apples-to-apples look at the offers, calculate the net direct cost of each school by subtracting offered scholarships and grants from the cost of attendance (tuition, room, board, textbooks and fees). If applicable, you can subtract work-study aid too. You should also factor in expected increases in tuition, room, board and other fees.

Fill in the Gaps

If after doing the math, you find you have a financial gap to cover, look into private scholarships. One easy one to enter on a monthly basis is College Ave’s $1,000 Scholarship Monthly Sweepstakes.

You may also want to consider a private student loan or parent loan. Look for a lender with great rates, flexible repayment terms, and the opportunity to customize the loan to fit your budget. For example, College Ave offers student loan calculators, a pre-qualification tool that offers quick answers without affecting your credit score, and other helpful tools and resources. To learn more, visit CollegeAve.com.

“The important thing is not to panic. If you filled out the FAFSA, financial aid award letters are on the way. And once you receive them, you and your student can get to the fun part of planning for the future,” says Colatriano.

PHOTO SOURCE: (c) LSOphoto / iStock via Getty Images Plus

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