Financial Aid

How Colleges REALLY Give Out Financial Aid

Six different financial aid package clues to uncover.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

June 03, 2019

How Colleges REALLY Give Out Financial Aid
Just like no two college students are the same; financial aid packages differ from student to student as well as from college to college. Each institution has its own formulas for determining how much financial aid to award to each student, and some experts say that students and their families can glean how much financial aid they could potentially receive from a college by the language they use on their website, tours and in discussions with admissions officers. NACAC highlights the following financial aid categories into which colleges fall:
1. Standard Package
• Offer a majority of students the standard Federal funding options (federal loans, work study, etc.)
• Limited number of large scholarships for very high-achieving students
• Look for links to national scholarship programs on the website for a clue that the college is a “standard package college”
2. Institutional Commitment Package
• “Commitment” component of this package is to keep costs for students as low as possible
• Listen or look for phrases like “full need,” “limited loan” or “no loan”
• Highly selective colleges

3. Upfront Discount Package
• Website features multiple scholarship opportunities
• Financial aid is part of admissions discussions, providing students and their families a clear picture of cost of attendance fairly early in the process

4. We Will Negotiate Package
• Willing to compare financial aid packages from other colleges in order to provide a more enticing offer for students and their families
• Disperses a mix of federal student aid as well as institutional grant aid

5. Heavy Borrowing Package
• High cost of attendance with low scholarship funding
• Students may get a very minimal scholarship that does little to alleviate costs

6. Low-Cost, High-Quality Institution Package
• Typically community or lower-cost in-state colleges
• Some access to federal aid as well as scholarships for high-achieving students
Researching a college’s financial aid leanings should happen sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until financial aid packages begin arriving in late winter or early spring. In the fall, read the fine print on the financial aid website, ask admissions officers questions and pay special attention on college tours. Look for financial aid clues as you're looking at colleges; you'll be better informed when making college choice decisions.

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