If one sentence could sum up the state of financing an American college education in 2024 it would be, “The more things change the more things stay the same.”
While change is afoot, much remains the same. Changes are particularly pronounced with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); yet, with the American economy and many other world economies faltering, it’s important to discuss not only what’s new but also what remains constant with regard to applying for and seeking aid and other sources of financing to fund study at American colleges because more and more American and international families find paying for college difficult.
Let’s dive into some definitions and discuss fundamental financial aid terminology while introducing what’s new this aid cycle and what remains the same so you can successfully navigate the process of funding an American undergraduate education as we approach 2024.
Need-Based Financial Aid
Need-based financial aid is awarded to students based on their demonstrated financial need, which is calculated through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or other financial aid applications (most notably, the CSS PROFILE, which is discussed below). Students with significant financial need may receive need-based aid in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and subsidized loans. Grants and scholarships do not need to be repaid, making them a form of “gift aid.” Need-based financial aid is designed to assist students who may not have the financial resources to afford the cost of college. It aims to make higher education accessible to those with limited means.
Merit-Based Financial Aid
Merit-based financial aid is awarded to students based on their individual achievements, abilities, and qualifications, often without regard to their financial need. Common criteria for merit-based aid include academic performance, standardized test scores, leadership, extracurricular involvement, talent, and special skills. Merit-based aid typically does not consider the student’s or their family’s financial situation when making awards. Instead, it focuses on recognizing and rewarding academic or other accomplishments. Merit-based aid is often provided in the form of scholarships and grants. These awards recognize and incentivize excellence in academics, sports, arts, or other areas. Unlike need-based aid, merit-based aid is a recognition of achievement and does not depend on the recipient’s financial circumstances. Merit-based financial aid is intended to attract and reward high-achieving students, whether academically, athletically, or in other areas. It is used by colleges and universities to recruit talented and accomplished students to their institutions.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that students in the United States can fill out to apply for federal financial aid for college. The FAFSA is used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine a student’s eligibility for various types of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and federal student loans. The information provided on the FAFSA, such as the student’s family’s income and assets, has traditionally been used to calculate what was known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC was measure of the student’s family’s ability to contribute to their education expenses, and it plays a crucial role in determining the amount of federal financial aid a student may receive. Yet, starting this year, the Student Aid Index (SAI) will replace the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The SAI is a new metric to understand the relative amount that the formula estimates a student can contribute and will help clarify how much federal aid and institutional aid a student might qualify for.
As mentioned, colleges also use the FAFSA information to determine eligibility for their own institutional aid programs. It’s important for students interested in receiving aid to complete the FAFSA as early as possible each year because some forms of financial aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The FAFSA typically becomes available on October 1 for the following academic year, but this year the form is not going live until December 1 because of changes that the US Federal Government has been unable to complete on schedule.
The new FAFSA will be able to sync with data from the Internal Revenue Service to automatically populate that tax information in the forms. There will also be fewer questions for families to complete on the new FAFSA. There are different deadlines for submission that vary by state and college. To complete the FAFSA, students and their families need to provide financial and personal information, including tax returns and other financial documents.
Also worth noting is that “Contributor” is a new term being introduced on the 2024–25 FAFSA form. A contributor is anyone who is required to provide their information and signature on the FAFSA form as well as provide consent and approval to have their federal tax information transferred from the IRS directly into the form via direct data exchange. Contributor participation does not indicate financial responsibility, but everyone contributing to the FAFSA form online must have their own StudentAid.gov account. One can create an account at StudentAid.gov/fsa-id/create-account. All students and contributors will need their own StudentAid.gov account before filling out the FAFSA form. Students and families should create their accounts as soon as possible, and beginning in December 2023, a contributor can create a StudentAid.gov account without a Social Security number. Students and contributors must provide consent and approval to have their federal tax information transferred from the IRS directly into the form via data exchange. Student and contributor federal tax information will be used to determine the student’s eligibility for federal student aid, and if a student or required contributor doesn’t provide consent and approval, the student will not be eligible for federal student aid even if he or she manually enters tax information into the FAFSA form. In summary, a contributor is anyone who is required to provide information on a student’s FAFSA form, including the student, the student’s spouse, a biological or adoptive parent, or the parent’s spouse (stepparent). A contributor isn’t non-adoptive grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, brothers or sisters, and aunts or uncles, even if they helped provide for or raise the student.
Students should go to fafsa.gov to fill out their FAFSA form in December 2023. Students can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243 if they need additional assistance. Note that it’s important to meet all school, state, and federal FAFSA deadlines. More information about deadlines can be found at StudentAid.gov/fafsa-deadlines. It’s also very important to remember your StudentAid.gov account username and password (FSA ID), which will be used to log in to complete the FAFSA form.
Another new element to the FAFSA this year: students will be able to include up to 20 colleges on the online FAFSA form, which is double the maximum of 10 allowed in previous years.
Federal Methodology (FM)
The Federal Methodology (FM) is a formula used in the United States to determine a student’s financial need for federal student aid when they complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FM calculates the Student Aid Index (SAI), which represents the amount of money that a student and their family are expected to contribute toward their education expenses for a specific academic year.
Here are some key points about the Federal Methodology (FM) and how it works:
- Income and Asset Information: The FM takes into account various financial factors, including the student’s and parents’ income and assets. This information is reported on the FAFSA.
- Student Aid Index (SAI) Calculation: The SAI is calculated based on a standardized formula established by the federal government. The formula considers factors such as adjusted gross income, untaxed income, and family size. It should be noted that while the EFC also factored in how many other college students were in a family, the new SAI does not do this. According to NerdWallet, the “SAI is used as part of the equation for financial need, which is found by subtracting the Student Aid Index and other financial assistance from the cost of attendance at each school. Your cost of attendance includes tuition, fees and room and board. The equation essentially looks like this: Cost of attendance – SAI – Other Financial Assistance (OFA) = Financial Need.”
- Need-Based Aid: The SAI is used to determine a student’s eligibility for need-based federal financial aid programs, such as the Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), and subsidized student loans. The formula subtracts the SAI from the cost of attendance (COA) at the student’s chosen college to determine the student’s financial need.
- Cost of Attendance (COA): The COA includes tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board, transportation, and other educational expenses. It is an estimate of the total cost of attending a particular college for one academic year.
- Non-Need-Based Aid: Some federal financial aid programs, such as unsubsidized federal student loans and the Federal Work-Study program, are not need-based and do not rely on the SAI for eligibility. Students can generally borrow unsubsidized loans regardless of their SAI, though loan amounts may be capped based on dependency status and academic year.
- State and Institutional Aid: States and colleges may use their own formulas or methodologies to award state and institutional financial aid. However, the SAI calculated using the FM on the FAFSA is often used as a starting point for determining eligibility for these programs.
- How low can SAI go?: Interestingly, a student’s SAI can be a negative number down as low as -1,500.
- Other changes this year: Child support received will now count as an asset. Family farms and small businesses will now count as assets, less the family’s primary residence if also located on the farm. Finally, the number of family members in college is no longer considered in the needs analysis formula, but it is still a required question on the FAFSA form.
Overall, the Federal Methodology is a standardized way to assess a student’s eligibility for federal need-based financial aid programs, and it plays a central role in the financial aid application process in the United States.
The CSS PROFILE (long version: College Scholarship Service PROFILE) is an additional financial aid application used by many private colleges and universities in the United States to assess a student’s eligibility for non-federal financial aid, including institutional grants, scholarships, and other forms of need-based and merit-based financial assistance. It is administered by the College Board, the same organization responsible for standardized tests like the SAT.
Here are some key points about the CSS PROFILE:
- Scope: The CSS PROFILE is typically required by private colleges and universities, primarily those that have substantial institutional financial aid programs. Public colleges and universities generally do not use the CSS PROFILE; they typically rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for determining federal financial aid eligibility.
- Timing: The CSS PROFILE becomes available in the fall, typically around October 1st, for the upcoming academic year. Deadlines for submission vary by college, and it’s essential for students to check each college’s specific deadline.
- Customized Questions: Unlike the FAFSA, which uses a standardized formula (the Federal Methodology), the CSS PROFILE allows colleges to customize the financial information they collect from applicants. This means that the questions and data requested may vary from one institution to another.
- Non-Custodial Parent Information: Some colleges that require the CSS PROFILE may also request financial information from a non-custodial parent, especially in cases where the student’s parents are divorced or separated.
- Fee: There is a fee associated with submitting the CSS PROFILE, and fee waivers may be available for eligible students. The fee can vary depending on the number of colleges or programs to which the student is sending the PROFILE.
- Documentation: Applicants may need to provide documentation, such as tax returns, W-2 forms, and other financial records, to support the information provided on the CSS PROFILE.
- Institutional Aid: The CSS PROFILE is primarily used to determine eligibility for institutional (college-specific) financial aid. Colleges may use the information provided on the PROFILE to make decisions about need-based grants and scholarships, as well as other forms of financial assistance.
- Supplemental Information: Some colleges may also use the CSS PROFILE to collect additional information about special circumstances or unusual expenses that could affect a student’s financial need.
It’s important for prospective college students to research the financial aid requirements of the colleges they plan to apply to, as not all schools require the CSS PROFILE. Some colleges may also have their own financial aid applications in addition to or instead of the CSS PROFILE. Students should be aware of deadlines and application requirements to ensure they are considered for all available financial aid opportunities at their chosen institutions.
The Institutional Methodology (IM) is a financial aid calculation formula used by some colleges and universities in the United States to determine a student’s eligibility for institutional (college-specific) financial aid programs. Unlike the Federal Methodology (FM), which is used to calculate eligibility for federal financial aid, the IM is specific to the institution itself (often created with the help of data collected in the CSS PROFILE) and is used to distribute the college’s own financial aid funds.
Here are some key points about the Institutional Methodology (IM):
- College-Specific Formula: Each college or university that uses the IM may have its own unique formula or set of criteria for calculating a student’s financial need. This means that the IM can vary from one institution to another, and the way financial need is determined may differ.
- Additional Information: In addition to the information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), colleges using the IM may request additional financial information from the student and their family. This can include details about assets, expenses, and other factors that may be relevant to determining financial need.
- Institutional Aid Programs: The results of the IM calculation are typically used by the college to award its own institutional financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. These awards are often based on factors like academic merit, athletic talent, or other criteria set by the college.
- Variable Award Amounts: Because the IM can vary from one institution to another, the amount of institutional aid a student is eligible for can also vary significantly depending on the college they attend. Different colleges may have different resources available for financial aid, and they may prioritize certain types of students or circumstances.
- Transparency: Colleges that use the IM are generally required to disclose their financial aid policies and methodologies to prospective students. This allows students and their families to understand how their financial need will be determined and how much institutional aid they may qualify for.
It’s important for students and their families to carefully review the financial aid policies and requirements of each college they are considering applying to, as these policies can have a significant impact on the affordability of attending a particular institution. Some colleges may use only the federal FM to determine financial need, while others may use both the FM and their own IM, or they may rely solely on the IM.
Pell Grants are need-based federal financial aid awards provided to eligible undergraduate students in the United States to help them pay for their college education. These grants are administered by the U.S. Department of Education and are a crucial source of financial assistance for many low-income and some middle-income students pursuing higher education.
Here are some key features of Pell Grants:
- Need-Based Aid: Pell Grants are awarded based on financial need, as determined by the Student Aid Index (SAI) calculated from the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Eligibility Criteria: Eligibility for Pell Grants is primarily determined by factors such as the student’s SAI, enrollment status (full-time or part-time), the cost of attendance at their chosen college, and their plans to attend college for a full academic year or less. Students must also meet certain citizenship and educational requirements.
- Award Amounts: The maximum Pell Grant award amount is set annually by the U.S. Congress. The actual amount a student receives depends on their financial need, as well as the cost of attending their college. Students with higher financial need may receive a larger Pell Grant.
- Annual Limits: Pell Grants have an annual limit, and students can receive these grants for a maximum of 12 semesters (or the equivalent). The number of semesters a student can receive a Pell Grant depends on factors such as enrollment status and the number of semesters they attend college each year.
- Non-Repayable: Pell Grants are considered gift aid, which means they do not have to be repaid by the student. This makes them a valuable source of financial assistance, as they reduce the student’s out-of-pocket expenses for tuition, fees, books, and other educational costs.
- Application: To be considered for a Pell Grant, students must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA is used to determine eligibility not only for Pell Grants but also for other federal, state, and institutional financial aid programs.
- Additional Aid: Pell Grants are often part of a student’s overall financial aid package, which may include other forms of aid such as scholarships, work-study opportunities, and federal student loans.
Pell Grants are intended to help make higher education more accessible to students with financial need, allowing them to pursue their educational goals without the burden of significant debt. The specific award amounts and eligibility criteria can change from year to year, so it’s important for students to stay informed about the latest information regarding Pell Grants and other financial aid opportunities. With the new FAFSA, Pell Grant eligiblity is expanding to more students.
Other Tuition Grants
Pell Grants are just one type of grant. A tuition grant is a form of financial aid provided by a college, university, or other educational institution to help offset the cost of tuition for students. Tuition grants are a type of financial assistance that does not need to be repaid, making them a valuable resource for students seeking to make higher education more affordable.
Here are some key points to understand about tuition grants:
- Source: Tuition grants are typically offered and funded directly by the educational institution itself. Some colleges and universities have their own grant programs to provide financial assistance to students, while others may receive funding from external sources, such as private donors or foundations, to offer grants to eligible students.
- Eligibility: Eligibility criteria for tuition grants can vary widely from one institution to another. Common factors considered may include financial need, academic merit, specific talents or skills, demographic characteristics, or a combination of these factors.
- Financial Need: Some tuition grants are need-based, meaning they are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need based on the institution’s assessment of their family’s financial resources. These grants are often intended to make education more accessible to students from low-income backgrounds.
- Merit-Based: Other tuition grants are merit-based, awarded to students who have achieved outstanding academic, athletic, artistic, or other accomplishments. Merit-based grants are often used to attract talented and high-achieving students to the institution.
- Specific Programs: In some cases, institutions offer tuition grants for students pursuing specific programs or fields of study. For example, a college may offer grants to students majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines to encourage enrollment in these fields.
- Application Process: To be considered for a tuition grant, students typically need to complete the institution’s financial aid application or scholarship application. This may include providing information about their academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, financial circumstances, or other relevant factors.
- Award Amounts: The amount of a tuition grant can vary widely. Some grants may cover a significant portion of tuition expenses, while others may be smaller and provide partial assistance.
- Renewability: Some tuition grants are renewable for multiple years, provided that the student continues to meet specific criteria, such as maintaining a certain GPA or making satisfactory academic progress.
- Impact on Financial Aid Package: Students should be aware that receiving a tuition grant may affect their overall financial aid package, including other forms of financial aid such as federal or state grants, work-study opportunities, and loans.
Tuition grants are an important tool that colleges and universities use to make education more accessible and to attract and retain talented students. Students interested in tuition grants should research the specific grant opportunities offered by the institutions they are considering and follow the application procedures and deadlines provided by those institutions.
Subsidized Student Loans
Subsidized student loans are a type of federal student loan available to undergraduate students in the United States with demonstrated financial need. These loans are known as “subsidized” because the federal government pays the interest that accrues on the loan while the borrower is in school and during certain other periods of deferment.
Here are some key features of subsidized student loans:
- Financial Need: To qualify for a subsidized student loan, students must demonstrate financial need through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Interest Subsidy: The unique feature of subsidized loans is that the federal government pays the interest that accrues on the loan while the borrower is enrolled at least half-time in college, during the six-month grace period after leaving school, and during deferment periods (such as if the borrower returns to school or experiences economic hardship). This interest subsidy means that the loan balance does not grow while the borrower is in school or during eligible deferment periods.
- Loan Limits: Subsidized student loans have annual and aggregate (lifetime) loan limits. These limits depend on the student’s year in school (e.g., freshman, sophomore) and whether they are considered a dependent or independent student. The limits can change annually based on federal regulations.
- Repayment: Repayment of subsidized loans typically begins six months after the borrower graduates, leaves school, or drops below half-time enrollment. During the in-school and grace periods, as well as during deferment, the borrower is not required to make interest payments, and the interest that accrues is paid by the federal government.
- Fixed Interest Rate: Subsidized loans have a fixed interest rate set by Congress. The rate may change annually for new loans, but once a loan is disbursed, the interest rate remains fixed for the life of the loan.
- Loan Forgiveness: Subsidized loans are eligible for various federal loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment programs that can help borrowers manage their loan debt if they qualify based on their income and employment status.
Subsidized student loans are considered one of the more favorable options for financing a college education because of the interest subsidy, which reduces the overall cost of borrowing. However, eligibility for subsidized loans is based on financial need, and there are annual and lifetime limits on the amount a student can borrow. It’s important for students to be aware of their borrowing limits, understand the terms of their loans, and explore other forms of financial aid (such as grants and scholarships) before taking out loans to pay for college expenses.
Unsubsidized Student Loans
Unsubsidized student loans are a type of federal student loan available to both undergraduate and graduate students in the United States. Unlike subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans are not based on financial need, and interest begins accruing on these loans as soon as they are disbursed.
Here are some key features of unsubsidized student loans:
- No Financial Need Requirement: Unlike subsidized loans, which are need-based, unsubsidized loans are available to all eligible students regardless of their financial need. This means that students do not have to demonstrate financial need to qualify for these loans.
- Interest Accrual: The major distinction of unsubsidized loans is that interest begins accruing on the loan from the moment it is disbursed to the borrower. This is in contrast to subsidized loans, where the federal government pays the interest while the borrower is in school and during certain other deferment periods.
- Interest Capitalization: While borrowers are not required to make interest payments while they are in school, during their grace period, or during certain deferment periods, the accruing interest is capitalized or added to the loan’s principal balance when repayment begins. This means that the borrower ends up paying interest on the interest that has accrued.
- Loan Limits: Unsubsidized loans have annual and aggregate (lifetime) loan limits that vary depending on the student’s year in school and whether they are a dependent or independent student. These limits are set by federal regulations and can change over time.
- Fixed Interest Rate: Unsubsidized loans have a fixed interest rate set by Congress. While the rate may change for new loans each year, once a loan is disbursed, the interest rate remains fixed for the life of the loan.
- Repayment: Repayment of unsubsidized loans typically begins six months after the borrower graduates, leaves school, or drops below half-time enrollment. Borrowers are responsible for repaying both the principal amount borrowed and the accrued interest.
- Loan Forgiveness and Repayment Plans: Unsubsidized loans are eligible for various federal loan forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans. These programs can help borrowers manage their loan debt based on their income and employment status.
It’s important for students to be aware of the terms and conditions of their unsubsidized loans, including the interest that will accrue over time. While these loans provide important access to funding for education, borrowers should consider their overall financial situation and explore other sources of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, before taking out loans to pay for college expenses.
Private Student Loans
Private student loans, or alternative student loans, are educational loans offered by private financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, and online lenders to help students and their families cover the cost of higher education. These loans are distinct from federal student loans, which are offered by the U.S. Department of Education.
Here are some key features of private college loans:
- Lender Variety: Private college loans can be obtained from a variety of private financial institutions. This includes banks, credit unions, online lenders, and some state-based lending programs. Each lender may have its own terms and conditions, interest rates, and eligibility criteria.
- Credit-Based: Private student loans are typically credit-based, which means that the borrower’s creditworthiness plays a significant role in the approval process. A good credit history may lead to lower interest rates, while those with limited credit or poor credit may require a co-signer to qualify.
- Interest Rates: The interest rates on private college loans can be variable or fixed, depending on the lender and loan product. Variable rates can change over time, potentially leading to higher or lower monthly payments, while fixed rates remain constant for the life of the loan.
- Loan Limits: Private college loans may have higher borrowing limits compared to federal student loans, allowing students to borrow more to cover their educational expenses. However, borrowers should exercise caution when taking on excessive debt.
- Loan Terms: Private loan terms vary but are often less flexible than federal loans. Borrowers may have fewer options for repayment plans and may not be eligible for federal loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment programs.
- Cosigners: Many private lenders require a creditworthy cosigner, especially for undergraduate students and borrowers with limited credit history. A cosigner is legally responsible for the loan if the primary borrower cannot make payments.
- Application Process: Applying for private college loans typically involves submitting an application to the lender, providing financial information, and consenting to a credit check. The approval process can vary in length.
- Use of Funds: Private loans can be used to cover a wide range of educational expenses, including tuition, fees, room and board, textbooks, and other related costs.
- Less Generous Repayment Options: Private loans often have less generous repayment terms than federal loans. Borrowers may need to start making payments while still in school, and they may not have access to income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness options.
- Interest Capitalization: Some private loans may capitalize interest during periods of deferment or forbearance, adding accrued interest to the loan balance.
Private college loans can be a valuable resource for students who have exhausted federal loan options or have specific needs not met by federal aid programs. Yet, it’s essential for borrowers to carefully compare private loan terms, interest rates, and repayment options before taking out these loans, as they may not offer the same protections and benefits as federal student loans.
Third Party Scholarships
Third-party college scholarships are financial awards given to students by organizations, institutions, companies, or individuals other than the college or university the student plans to attend. These scholarships are typically offered to help students cover the costs of their education, including tuition, fees, books, and living expenses. Here are some key points to understand about third-party college scholarships:
- Source of Funding: Third-party scholarships can come from a variety of sources, including private foundations, nonprofit organizations, corporations, community groups, and even individuals who want to support students’ educational goals.
- Selection Criteria: Scholarships often have specific eligibility criteria, such as academic achievement, leadership qualities, community involvement, or specific career goals. Some scholarships may also be based on financial need.
- Application Process: To apply for third-party scholarships, students typically need to complete an application that includes personal information, academic records, essays, letters of recommendation, and other required documents. Some scholarships may require interviews or additional steps.
- Competition: Many scholarships are highly competitive, as they attract applicants from a wide pool of students. It’s important for students to carefully review the requirements and tailor their applications to stand out.
- Award Amounts: The amount of money awarded through third-party scholarships can vary widely. Some scholarships may cover a significant portion of a student’s expenses, while others may provide smaller awards.
- Use of Funds: Scholarship funds are typically intended to be used for educational expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, and living costs. Some scholarships may have restrictions on how the money can be used.
- Renewability: Some scholarships are one-time awards, while others are renewable for multiple years as long as the recipient continues to meet the specified criteria.
- Deadline: Each scholarship will have its own application deadline, which may vary depending on the organization offering the scholarship. It’s important for students to pay attention to these deadlines to ensure they don’t miss out on opportunities.
- Impact on Financial Aid: It’s important for students to inform their college or university’s financial aid office if they receive a third-party scholarship, as it can affect the overall financial aid package. In some cases, the college may adjust other forms of financial aid to avoid over-awarding.
- Search Resources: Students can search for third-party scholarships through various resources, including scholarship search websites, their high school guidance counselor, college financial aid offices, and community organizations.
Overall, third-party college scholarships can be a valuable source of financial support for students pursuing higher education, as they can help alleviate the financial burden of attending college and make education more accessible to a wider range of students. Yet, the amount of time and energy needed to apply for and ultimately secure such scholarships may not be worth it relative to the often larger pots of money students can access elsewhere through other sources of aid.
Need-Blind vs. Need-Aware
“Need-aware” and “need-blind” are terms used in the college admissions process to describe how an institution considers a student’s financial need when making admission decisions. These policies can have a significant impact on a student’s chances of being admitted and the level of financial aid they may receive.
Here’s what each term means:
- Need-Aware Admissions:
- Definition: Under a need-aware admission policy, the college or university takes into consideration a student’s financial need when making admission decisions. In other words, the institution is aware of the applicant’s financial situation and may consider their ability to pay tuition and related expenses as a factor in the admissions process.
- Impact: Need-aware institutions may admit some students without considering their financial need, especially those who are exceptionally qualified or meet other specific criteria. However, when it comes to students whose qualifications are on the borderline or are not as strong, financial need can play a role in the decision-making process. In some cases, this means that students with high financial need may have a more challenging time gaining admission, particularly if the institution has limited financial aid resources.
- Need-Blind Admissions:
- Definition: Under a need-blind admission policy, the college or university does not take an applicant’s financial need into account when making admission decisions. The institution makes admission decisions solely based on the applicant’s academic achievements, extracurricular activities, recommendations, essays, and other non-financial factors.
- Impact: Need-blind institutions admit students without regard to their financial circumstances. This policy often means that the admissions process is more focused on the student’s qualifications and potential contributions to the academic community. Once a student is admitted, the institution commits to meeting their demonstrated financial need through a combination of grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans.
It’s important to note that not all colleges and universities have a strict need-aware or need-blind policy. Some institutions may adopt a hybrid approach, where they are need-blind for domestic applicants but need-aware for international applicants, or vice versa. Additionally, an institution’s financial resources and endowment can play a role in whether they can afford to be need-blind in their admissions process. Students and their families should research the specific admission and financial aid policies of the colleges they are interested in to understand how these policies may affect their chances of admission and the level of financial aid they can expect to receive if admitted.
So, What About Aid Available At Colleges On My List?
As you could probably tell by reading up to this point, the types and amount of aid students can expect varies a great deal based on both the student and the colleges the student is applying to. While no article can become fully personalized to tens of thousands of readers’ unique economic and demographic backgrounds, there are only so many colleges out there, which makes honing in on and better understanding individual college aid statistics so valuable. My favorite sources of such powerful financial aid data are Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy who publish amazing Domestic Undergraduate Need-Based Aid and Merit Aid Stats and Financial Aid for Nonresident Alien Undergraduates Stats each year. Otherwise, it can’t be emphasized often enough, if you have any questions about how a particular college on your list administers or handles financial aid, I strongly encourage you to call or email that college’s financial aid office; nearly all colleges have financial aid officers working Monday through Friday whose job it is to answer prospective and current families’ questions. Take advantage of these expert sources of information at the colleges on your (or your student’s) list so you are able to navigate the the college and financial aid application processes with eyes wide open. Good luck!
Additional Federal Resources
Information, resources, and guidance for students, contributors, and borrowers
Financial Aid Toolkit
Find outreach tools to help guide others through changes to the FAFSA process
FAFSA® Changes: An Overview
A webinar that discusses contributors, the StudentAid.gov account requirement, and providing consent and approval to transfer federal tax information from the IRS via direct data exchange.
2024 –25 FAFSA Preview Presentation
An overview designed to help you understand the 2024-2025 FAFSA form and prepare for FAFSA outreach and events. This presentation includes detailed screenshots of the 2024 –2025 FAFSA online form and new user experience.
Review the FAFSA video playlists that will be posted the FAFSA’s YouTube channel, which are helpful resources for students and families.