University Financial Aid: Where’s the Money?

By Dr. Gina La Monica

As parents analyze their financial aid awards before the May 1 college decision day deadline approaches, many are confused about their child’s financial aid awards. Additionally, some families have made the common mistake of only applying to public colleges believing that private schools are out of their financial reach. As I dissect each family’s financial aid award letter, it becomes apparent which college is the most affordable for the family.

Generally speaking, public colleges have a tighter budget than private because their budgets are based on public funding, although some public colleges have done a wonderful job of acquiring huge endowments. Additionally, public colleges have complex funding restrictions that private colleges are not required to follow. That said, a review of a college’s endowment and donation history will give you some insight into its financial aid practices. Also, find out if college student grants are need-based or not. Need-based means that the institution strictly funds the financial needs of the family, which the majority of public colleges fall into this category. While blind funding means college funds are based on who they admit to college, and most importantly, being low income or not having the funds to pay for college will not affect your chances of being admitted. Many private universities are need-related and even state that they will provide the full financial cost of the student for their tuition.

Completing the FAFSA and/or CSS is the first step to obtaining any type of financial assistance. Even if you can afford to pay for your child’s college education, it is important to at least complete the FAFSA in case the college wishes to award your child a merit scholarship that is not based on need. Private colleges persuade wealthy and overachieving students to join their colleges through merit awards. These institutions know that these students do not need the money, but it is a way to ensure their admission.

Your child will receive the highest level of funding in the first year, so securing these funds early on for the four years of undergraduate study is paramount. There will be other grants and scholarship opportunities, but the majority are directed at first-year students to ensure attendance at the institution. Once a student has committed to a college, there is little or no incentive for a college to offer the student further assistance; therefore, financial aid is a means of attracting a student to their school. Therefore, when committing to an institution, negotiate as much funding as possible in advance for the full four years.

After completing the FAFSA, the government will calculate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for each student that parents are expected to pay. Thereafter, the rest of the tuition less EFC will be covered by various types of loans, grants/bursaries, and student worker funds. There could also be an unmet need for which parents will need to obtain funding. Awards vary from student to student depending on the institution’s willingness for that student. Students with higher grade point averages, better test scores, and who complete more rigorous course study will be more likely to earn higher rewards.

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Dr. Gina La Monica holds a doctorate in education and has worked as a high school counselor, college administrator, and professor at numerous universities and colleges including the University of California, Los Angeles, Lutheran University of California, California State University, Northridge, San Diego State University, etc. She was a full professor and an expert in vocational technical education and adult learning. She currently teaches at a local college and assists students of all ages, from kindergarten through college, with career exploration, college admissions, learning assessment, tutoring, and education plans. .

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Dr. Gina La Monica

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