Before college begins, students and parents should enter the financial aid office armed with a list of good questions.
Which ones are essential? We had financial aid officers weigh in on what they wish college hopefuls and their parents would ask. Skip these and you risk missing out on aid, borrowing too much or misjudging the affordability of a college.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Daniel M. Tramuta, associate vice president for enrollment services, SUNY--Fredonia
Is there additional financial aid available? That question opens up so many more doors. I'm like JetBlue. I'm going to overbook. I might have 6,000 applications for admission. I'll accept 3,000 and only want to enroll 1,100. When I go in and cancel aid for students who decide not to come here, I have the ability to go back and award more money. Making that call and having that conversation is critical. If you don't make that call, I assume you're OK with your award.
[Negotiate the best possible financial aid deal.]
James Kaster, director of financial aid, Washington and Lee University
What happens if my financial circumstances change during the time my child is in school? Families aren't only making a financial commitment for the first year, but three years after that. It's good to know how a university will assist you if something bad happens, say, there's a loss of employment or death in the family.
Some schools will say, "That's the award we've given you and there's nothing we can do about it." Some schools will give you a period of time to appeal. We always have the door open during the four years that a student is at Washington and Lee and will re-evaluate financial aid from that time forward.
Angela Hovatter, director of financial aid, Frostburg State University
Do my taxes need to be submitted before I complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid? I don't care what your neighbor told you, you can file the FAFSA without having your taxes completed. A lot of parents don't understand that and they miss school deadlines and miss out on potential financial aid. You can use last year's taxes or your W-2. Actually, the FAFSA has an answer that says, "Will File," letting everyone know that you're doing this to meet a deadline.
[Pay for college without taking on student loan debt.]
Lori Vedder, director of the office of financial aid, University of Michigan--Flint
How many years is my child's program of study and what will it take to graduate in four years versus five, six or seven? Obviously the fewer years it takes, the less borrowing, fewer tuition increases and fewer potential years of lost wages from not graduating and getting a job. Students often take all the loan funds offered to them, not realizing if they take longer to graduate they may run out of loan borrowing potential not only annually but on an aggregate level. They need to have a plan from the outset.
Kathleen Brown, director of financial aid, Saint Mary's College
What happens to my child's financial aid after the first year? Go through your financial aid award line by line and ask, "What could stay the same? What could increase? What could decrease?" Someone might have a one-time-only award. If a school is giving you a scholarship or grant, ask, "What do I have to do to keep it? Maintain a certain GPA? Stay in a major?"
Mark Warner, assistant provost for enrollment management and director of student financial aid, University of Iowa
What percentage of graduates leave without debt ? Often the media, when reporting average student debt, forget to report the percent of students graduating without debt. Generally a higher percent of graduating seniors without student debt means a more affordable institution. I'm not saying it's the highest priority but it's certainly one of those points of information you should be aware of when considering your options.
[Follow these tips to minimize student loan debt .]
Ben Kohl, assistant director for the office of student financial assistance, Kansas State University
What is the whole cost of your university? Many times cost is only communicated in terms of tuition and housing. The full cost of attendance is actually what it costs for a student to eat, live, sleep, breathe and attend the college or university for one academic year at a time.
Simply put, families need to seek information and discuss what their student will actually spend, not just on tuition and housing, but on items including food, miscellaneous and personal expenses, all transportation expenses, campus and course fees, all books, supplies and equipment for all courses in order to be much more financially prepared for the college and university experience.
Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.
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