Understanding the Financial Aid Package and Why It Matters

by Ashley Eneriz

The college application process requires a number of important steps: Candidates need to present a well-rounded picture of their academic strengths and extracurricular interests as well as their financial standing. For some families, this can feel like a hectic time! Keep in mind that each step is important and will help in determining the right school for your child, including the financial aid process.

If you are in the middle of filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), know that you are on the right path. Submitting your information is an important first step. You cannot truly know which school will be right for your family’s budget until you submit that application and receive a financial aid package.

Here are a few things to know while you’re awaiting your award letter and your child is considering different schools.

Get a Full View of Each School’s Costs

Before you get overwhelmed by sticker shock, take a moment to figure out the true price of tuition. Many schools calculate their yearly costs by combining tuition, students’ living expenses, and a dining plan. It’s important to take the entire financial situation into account because your child might not need some of the costs covered—or may choose to pay out of pocket for a different option.

Keep in mind that you cannot accurately determine the overall cost of a certain college until your family receives a financial aid package. One school might cost more initially, but it may offer more scholarships or grants, making it the more affordable option in the end.

Don’t stress about your son or daughter choosing a university until they’re accepted and you know the estimated financial aid. You’ll have ample time to make the right decision!

Understand the Estimated Award Package

When you do receive your family’s estimated aid package, you’ll see a summary of all the types of aid that are available to your child. In your award package, you will see:

  • Cost of Attendance (COA): This will include tuition and fees for one year at the school. This number will also include expenses like housing, dining options, and standard fees (like campus health insurance).
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC): This dollar amount is not how much a college thinks you can pay; it is the number the school uses to determine how much financial aid you are eligible for. -Gift Aid: This represents the grants and scholarships that do not need to be repaid.
  • Federal Aid: This includes federal loans that can be borrowed from the government and must be paid back with interest.
  • Work Options: If your student qualifies, work-study options will also be included in the package.

The financial aid package will also have instructions to accept the aid and a deadline. Remember that you do not have to accept everything in the package—you can choose to only use the gift aid and decline the federal loans. Consider scheduling some time to talk to one of the school’s admissions counselors to better understand your options.

Use Your Aid to Help Your Student Decide

Knowing a university’s cost after the aid package is helpful, but don’t influence your child to make their decision based on dollar amount alone. If you’re interested in learning more about a specific college’s offerings, think about asking an admissions counselor the following questions:

  • How much aid can be expected in the following years?
  • Are there more scholarship opportunities for my child’s desired major?
  • What is the average graduation rate for students at the school?
  • What is the post-graduate hire rate for my child’s desired major?
  • What type of financial aid options are available for study away opportunities or internships?
  • Does my child qualify for programs like work-study or on-campus employment?

Knowing these answers can help you better understand which college is the best fit for your student. One university might appear more affordable during your child’s freshman year but may ultimately cost more after graduation.

Another important factor to consider is the value of résumé-building opportunities offered by different universities. For example, two universities can offer similar journalism degrees at a similar cost, but one might include internships and other opportunities that can help lead to employment upon graduation. It’s important to weigh the options!

Thankfully, you don’t have to take on college financing alone. Speak with an Azusa Pacific University’s admissions counselor today to help you figure out how to afford your child’s future.