Monthly Features

Understanding the Financial Aid Award Letter; What are Your Options?

Parents who completed a College Costs Estimator should already have an idea of the cost of attending a college and what financial aid the student may be eligible for.  For families who have not completed a College Costs Estimator, the financial aid award from the college may be their first realization of the cost of attendance.  You may receive your first award this spring and a decision must be made no later than May 1 (for most colleges).  

Note: Parents and students, put a priority on the completion of the degree/certificate. Attending college for a few semesters is not the goal.  Students who have not completed their certificate/degree have the highest student loan default rate.  They do not benefit from the higher paying jobs that require a degree but still must pay off their student loans.  This has created a loan nightmare for many students without a degree.

  • Make sure you understand the financial aid award. If the student has received scholarships, are they renewable?  Are there loans included in the award?  You may want to call the university and see if you can expect to receive a similar award next year.  
  • Loans are not the enemy, not understanding the payments and interest is the enemy. You would never sign a loan for a car or home without knowing what your payments are. Why would you not make sure you understand the payments on a student loan?  Make an appointment with the financial aid office to discuss the loans you expect to take out for this program.  Then make one with Career Services to find out what income you may expect upon graduation.  Can you afford the payments for these loans with the intended career?
  • If the financial aid award is not going to work financially for your family, what are the options? 
    •  You may want to look for other schools that offer the same program at a lower cost.  Is this certificate/degree offered at a community college where the student can commute?  
    • Students who are working towards a Bachelor’s Degree (four years) may also want to look into the option of a commutable college. Is there a community college the student could attend for the first two years and then transfer to the 4-year college?  Students who attend a community college may want to look into working towards an Associate’s Degree before transferring to a four-year college. If a student is eligible for the Indiana state grant program, Indiana currently has an additional need-based grant for students who complete their Associate’s Degree before completing a Bachelor’s Degree.  This is a win/win, you may be eligible for the extra grant money and if something prevents you from completing the 4-year program, you already have an Associate’s Degree.  There often are good jobs for applicants with an Associate’s Degree.
    • In Indiana, consider the Ivy Tech ASAP program, an 11-month accelerated Associate’s Degree program.  There are 16 ASAP programs throughout Indiana.  The transfer scholarships available to ASAP students are significant.  The coursework is spread over five eight-week terms, and classes are held from 9AM-5PM, Monday-Friday.  Contact your local Ivy Tech campus for additional details if they offer the ASAP option.
    • What about the family who had an unusually high income in 2015, the tax year used for the most current FAFSA?  If you do not expect to have incomes at this level again, what now?  You may want to appeal to the financial aid office to make adjustments to the financial aid award.  This is called a “professional judgement.” Please view the March 2017 Monthly Feature Article for more information about professional judgements. 
Preparation for college can be difficult at times.  The financial aid office at the college can help you understand your financial questions and options.  College is like many other events in life, it may be difficult at times, but the rewards can be vast and amazing.  The final result includes a certificate/diploma which could be your ticket to job security and more possibilities for professional advancement.  Make it happen!

Publication Date: April 2017

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