Financial Aid

15 Financial Aid Questions You Need to Ask

These questions will help you make better decisions.

Shawna Newman

February 01, 2023

15 Financial Aid Questions You Need to Ask
The more you know, the better off you’ll be in the future.
Paying for college involves financial responsibility. Whether you’re discussing how you’ll pay for college with your parents or guardians, evaluating your financial aid packages or reviewing your financial aid award package as a current college student, it’s important to be your own advocate. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask financial questions. The more you know and fully understand each element of financial aid, the better off you’ll be in the future.

Questions for the Financial Aid Office

As you review your financial aid package, note the areas you’re not sure about. This could be financial aid terms used or a financial aid component suggested in your award package. After you’ve had time to review, set up a time to visit with the financial aid officer at the school you’re attending, or for soon-to-be-freshmen, at the college you’re considering attending in the fall.
Below are important financial aid questions to ask:

Does your school have a deadline for FAFSA submission? What are the consequences if I don’t meet the priority deadline?

The FAFSA is your key to financial aid, completing it will lead you to the three types of financial aid opportunities at the college, state and federal levels. Many students and parents have questions about the FAFSA. Ask the financial aid officer at your school for more details about areas of this important form. Answering financial aid questions for students is a big part of their job.

When will I know how much financial aid I’ll be eligible for?

Most financial aid packages are delivered in the spring—typically in February or March. You’ll want to also find out how they’ll deliver your financial aid news. For instance, do they only email it or send you a paper copy too? Ask these questions so you know where to look for your financial aid award news.

What types of financial aid do you offer? What are the requirements for need-based aid and for merit-based aid?

Get a full picture of the financial aid the college offers in the financial aid package they present to you. Explore the possibilities offered in your award package. Did they not include an option? If so, ask why? Some examples of financial aid include:
  • Merit-Based Scholarships or Institutional Scholarships
  • Federal Work Study
  • State Grants
  • Pell Grant
  • If I get a work-study job, how many hours will I be required to work per week?

    Ask this question to understand how much you can expect to contribute to your tuition and to set a realistic work-life (student-life) balance.  

    What types of work-study jobs does the university offer?

    Learn what types of jobs you may have available. Try to find a job that complements your major, if possible.

    Are part-time jobs available to students who don't qualify for a work-study job?

    Some students do not qualify for federal work-study as a form of financial aid. Oftentimes, universities give work-study students job priority. Find out how this works at the college you’re attending. You’ll want to make sure that you have the option to work on campus or as close to campus as possible, even if you’re not a work-study student.

    Am I considered a dependent or independent student? Can I change my dependency status?

    Dependency status on the FAFSA is different from the dependency status on taxes. A common misconception is that students are independent on the FAFSA because they have a job and pay their own taxes. But there are quite a few requirements to be a FAFSA independent student.

    Can I expect to receive a similar financial aid package all four years, assuming my financial circumstances do not change by much?

    If you notice any enticing offers like institutional grants or merit scholarships, find out if they’re renewable each year. This will give you a more accurate picture of the overall cost to attend.

    If I’m awarded a scholarship, will it change the amount of aid you can offer me?

    Some colleges will deduct the amount of financial aid offered based upon the amount and/or number of outside scholarships you’ve earned. Referred to as scholarship displacement, some states are working to outlaw this practice.

    When is my first tuition payment due?

    Knowing when you will be expected to pay your college tuition bill will help you create a financial plan.

    Do you have a payment plan that allows for monthly payments throughout the year? If so, are there fees to participate?

    Learn what the payment expectations are so you, and/or your family can plan accordingly.

    What’s the actual cost to attend your school?

    While this may seem obvious, it’s not. There’s no standardized method for Cost of Attendance (COA), yet. The FAFSA Simplification Act is working to change this. For the 2023 – 24 FAFSA award year, colleges must include more details about their institution's COA. In the past, colleges could be very general, but the new changes call for more clarification. You won’t see full COA transparency from all universities yet, and financial aid award letters (which usually include the COA) have a variety of presentation styles. There’s no straightforward method to compare award letters, apples-to-apples.

    What’s the average student loan debt for your graduates?

    If the average student debt is substantially larger than the national average, this could serve as a financial aid red flag. Meaning most students do not receive great financial aid award packages from that university.

    What’s my next step if financial aid is insufficient or there’s a circumstance that causes my parent(s)’ income to change?

    Changes happen, and financial aid offices understand this. Find out what steps you may need to take if you find yourself in a new financial situation.

    If I don't apply for financial aid this year, will that affect my eligibility for financial aid in subsequent years?

    It never hurts to ask if the policy differs university to university.

    Are there resources available to help me investigate other types of aid, like state grants and scholarships?

    Some universities have their own scholarship database for students to look for institutional-specific scholarships. Many on-site college scholarship offices promote scholarship tools like Fastweb to help students find even more scholarships offered outside of the college. It’s free to create a Fastweb profile. Find everything you need to help you file for financial aid here on Fastweb.

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