Financial Aid

Financial Aid Questions You Need to Ask

These questions will help you make better decisions.

Shawna Newman

February 22, 2024

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.

20+ 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:

Financial Aid

Naturally, there are plenty of financial aid questions that you can ask your school's administrators. Take a look at a few examples below.

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. NOTE: This year, the FASFA has been delayed after the U.S. Department of Education has made changes to simplify the form. As a result, FAFSA processing times have been delayed. Schools will not receive financial data for students until mid-March, meaning students shouldn’t expect financial aid packages or award letters until end of March or April.

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.

Does this financial aid package reflect the college’s final 2024 - 25 tuition costs?

Many colleges and their associated state budgets are not solidified at the first of the year. Public college administration does their best to stay aware and forecast amounts that will be set aside, but nothing is final until signed by a state’s governor. A state's public education funds support many functions from campus upkeep and salaries to special programs AND the state-funded financial aid you may receive.

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.

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.

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.


Financial aid administrators aren't just experts on financial aid; they know a lot about scholarships too. Direct any questions that you may have about merit aid to them.

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.

Does your package include non-competitive or competitive scholarships?

Non-competitive scholarships are usually funded by the university itself and guaranteed. Here’s the caveat: while guaranteed, the non-competitive scholarships could have a cap, meaning the college has a state-set amount for the year they can award. Once this has been met, your non-competitive offer could adjust accordingly. Don’t be afraid to ask the college’s financial aid counselor for details on caps.

Can you combine a non-competitive or university specific scholarship with other scholarships?

Competitive scholarships are often funds supplemented outside of the university. They’re also awarded to a limited number of qualifying students. Competitive scholarships help to bridge the financial gap that results from your college-proposed financial aid package. Some colleges will reduce their non-competitive scholarship payouts if you’re awarded competitive scholarships.

Is the institutional scholarship renewable for additional semesters?

Understand and compare the value of each before you accept any non-competitive scholarships. For instance, University A may offer you a $5,000 non-competitive scholarship for your freshman year only. While University B may offer you a $2,000 non-competitive scholarship your freshman and sophomore year even after factoring in your $10,000 competitive scholarship. In this case, University B would be your best value.

Paying for Tuition

Get information on when you need to start paying for tuition as well as availability of payments plans before you enroll.

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.

College Costs

For years, colleges have hidden the real cost of attendance behind general terminology. To get to the real cost of attendance, you may have to ask some follow-up questions.

What’s the actual cost to attend your school?

In the past, schools could be very general about the cost of attendance, even with Net Price Calculators. However, the FAFSA Simplification Act is working to change this. Now, colleges must include more details about their institution's COA. The Department of Education also encourages families to check out their College Scorecard website. With this site, students can view what others are actually paying at their college choices.

Does tuition include room and board or credit hours only?

Some financial aid packages use an all-inclusive tuition approach, meaning they include your room and board in the estimated tuition. Be careful when you’re comparing or considering offers. Make sure you understand what your tuition includes.

Does the cost of tuition include textbooks?

It’s easy to forget about textbooks when considering the cost of college, and most colleges do not include this in their cost of attendance. Ask the financial aid office what the average cost of textbooks was for first-year students last semester. TIP: If the college you’re interested in has a textbook rental program, take advantage of it. This will stretch your dollar further.

How many credit hours is your estimation based upon?

Some colleges keep their financial aid package quote within the basic, 12-credit hours per semester. While others choose a more aggressive approach at 14/15-credit hours per semester.

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