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Comparing Your Financial Aid Awards

If you’re fortunate enough to have been admitted to multiple colleges one task you will now be faced with is deciding which one is going to be the most affordable option. If you’ve done your homework ahead of time, and know your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), you should have a ballpark idea of what your net, or true, cost is going to look like.

Note that I didn’t say net price.

Net cost is your out-of-pocket cost – it’s what the college will cost you after gift aid (read, free money!) is applied to your overall cost of attendance. If the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, housing, a meal plan and insurance, is $60,000 and they are going to award you with $25,000 in gift aid, your net cost will be $35,000.

If you’re noticing that I didn’t mention loans, then good for you! Loans, while a part of financial aid awards, are not gifted money. Loans have to be paid back, with interest, and therefore should be factored in after your net cost has been determined. They are helpful, but you can’t dismiss the fact that they have to be paid back later.

So, what do you do with all of this information as you try to decide where you will enroll?

First, gather all your award letters and take a close look at them. Award letters are not created equal. Some will be incredibly detailed and will include your EFC and the complete cost of attendance broken down into semesters with the award broken down into categories (gift aid, loans, work-study) while others will show just a total for the year.

Second, create a little spreadsheet for yourself so that you can compare apples to apples. Make columns for each school and then break down the costs and the awards so that you can see the total for each school.

Third, subtract the gift aid from the cost of attendance and you will get your net cost.

Keep in mind that the lowest net cost isn’t always the best offer. And this is where you have to look at what kind of loans you’re being offered and if you’re being offered work-study.

You already know loans have to be paid back, but if you were to take out a small loan and that makes up the difference between your top choice school and the second place one, that loan may make sense for you. Work-study can be a great help as well, but you have to remember that you will be required to work on campus for so many hours each week to earn it. Even then, it is not applied to your bill because you earn the money on a week-to-week basis like a paycheck.

At the end of the day, be honest with yourself in regards to how much you can handle. You are making a decision about the next four years based on information you have for your first year only. What happens when the cost of attendance goes up in your sophomore year? What if you’re working for your work-study money and its affecting how much time you have to study? What if you struggle and lose your merit scholarship?

These are all questions you need to ask yourself before making any decisions. Just keep in mind that you have to make a final decision by May 1st.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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High EFC? Here’s Where You Will Find Merit Scholarships

High EFC Heres Where you will find merit scholarshipsIf you’re like most people, you were pretty shocked and upset when you found out your EFC. But it is a necessary step if you want to pay less for college as the alternative of waiting to “see what happens” rarely ends well.

Even if you have a high EFC, there are still ways to significantly cut the cost of college. You just have to know where to look for them.

And you need to get past any obsession with name-brand colleges. If you’re looking for a merit scholarship to Amherst, Boston College, Duke, Georgetown, MIT, or Yale, it’s not going to happen.

Why? Because these colleges mostly (and in some cases, exclusively) provide money based on need. Now, they can have a more generous definition of need compared to most colleges, but nobody is earning a scholarship for stand-out grades or perfect test scores.

By contrast, there are plenty of colleges who provide generous merit scholarships; they just happen to be the ones that don’t make the top 50 of national rankings.

It’s basic supply and demand driven by a popularity contest. The most popular colleges are in high demand and don’t have to provide any financial incentives for students to attend. Their acceptance rates are already in the single digits (or close to it) and they are able to proudly boast of increasing numbers of applications year after year.

Other colleges, ones that you may have never heard of, have a more difficult time convincing students to attend because they’re not as popular. These colleges have to work harder to attract students. As a result, they offer incentives to students to attend.

And some of these incentives, in the form of merit scholarships, can be game changers.

Of course, the first thing you have to do is get past the idea that just because you haven’t heard of a college, doesn’t mean that it is lacking quality in some regard. Yes, there are some stinkers out there, but if you invest some time in learning more about a college’s programs, the type of students who attend, how many students graduate in four years, where they go after college and, then what that college may have to offer you in the form of a scholarship, it is quite possible that you may change your mind on just how important the name of a college is to you.

It is possible to find really great deals on colleges; you just have to get beyond the most highly ranked – and most popular – colleges in the country to find them.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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Making the Most of Your Financial Aid Eligibility

Making the most of financial aid eligibilityAs many of you are working on your FAFSA right now, and trying to make sure you maximize your aid eligibility, I wanted to share a few tips that may help you along the way. Keeping in mind that you should always be truthful on your aid applications, none of these tips is going to help you game the system or give you places to hide our money. However, each of them can help you make timely decisions that could significantly affect your aid eligibility.

1. Pay off consumer debt, such as credit card and auto loan balances prior to filing – FAFSA asks you about cash assets available to you on the day you file.

2. Likewise, accelerate necessary expenses, to reduce available cash. For example, if you need a new car or refrigerator, buy it before you file the FAFSA.

3. Prepay your mortgage. FAFSA does not ask about home equity.

4. Spend down the student’s assets and income first – assessed at a higher rate (20% versus 5.64%). By spending them down during the first year, they are not available in year two for another 20% assessment.

5. If you feel that your family’s financial circumstances are unusual, make an appointment with the financial aid administrator at your school to review your case. Sometimes the school will be able to adjust your financial aid packag4 using a process known as Professional Judgment.

6. Maximize contributions to your retirement fund. FAFSA does not ask about retirement monies.

7. Do not withdraw money from your retirement fund to pay for school, as distributions count as taxable income, reducing next year’s financial aid eligibility. If you must use money from your retirement funds, borrow the money from the retirement fund instead of taking a distribution.

8. If grandparents want to give money to the student to help them pay for their education, ask them to wait until the student’s last year of college. Any money gifted to the student has to be reported on the FAFSA and reduces next year’s financial aid eligibility. By waiting until the student’s last year, there is no penalty to worry about the following year.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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Scholarship Searching Made Easier

Dobler College ConsultingWith the frenzy of college application deadlines finally winding down families are starting to apply for financial aid. And while some of you will qualify for need-based aid, some of you will not. Or, you will qualify but the award may not be enough to get you where you need to be.

Having said that, if there is a gap between what the college is offering you and what you can afford to pay, spending some time applying for private scholarships can help ease that burden. Scholarships can be found just about anywhere and sometimes getting started can be rather difficult.

Today, I’d like to share a few tips to help make that a bit easier:

1. If you know what you want to major in, you should start looking for scholarships through professional organizations and associations affiliated with that field. For example, here’s a list of scholarships offered through the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE) for students interested in majoring in engineering.

2. To narrow down internet search results, trying searching more specifically such as “biology scholarships 2018 2019”.

3. Make good use of social media. The Pinterest board has over 1,400 scholarships!

4. Beware of scams. It should never cost you more than a postage stamp to apply for a scholarship. Also NEVER give out your social security number or bank information.

5. Start your search locally and be prepared to do the work that other students won’t. Check out scholarship opportunities through your parents’ employers, local organizations, your bank or credit union, the town library, your church and, most importantly, your school counseling office.

6. Searching for scholarships is like a part-time job. It’s not a one and done deal. The more you search and the more you apply, the more likely you are to win something.

7. When you are using a scholarship search engine like the ones on FinAid or FastWeb you must fill out the profiles completely if you want to have the best chances of finding and winning scholarships. Incomplete profiles are not going to help you.

8. If you have to write an essay, apply the same rules for college application essays: Grab the reader’s attention in the first two sentences and tell a story. If your essay bores you, it will most definitely bore the scholarship selection committee person who has to read it.

9. Keep in mind the essays you’ve already written for college applications. Recycle and re-purpose where you can to save time, but pay close attention to what each essay prompt is asking you – a recycled essay that doesn’t answer the prompt will not help you win a scholarship.

10. Look for “livelines” versus deadlines. Find out what the earliest date is you can apply and apply on that date. Be the one to lead the pack of applications!

At the end of the day, scholarship searching is a process and a time-consuming one at that. Pace yourself and stay positive. Also keep in mind that private scholarships can often affect your financial aid award. Colleges treat scholarships differently, but some will reduce your merit scholarships dollar for dollar for each private scholarship that you earn.

If you’re unsure of how colleges will treat private scholarships, give them a call and ask. It’s better to know up front before you invest a lot of time in your scholarship search.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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Applying For Financial Aid

Appying For Financial Aid2If your son or daughter is going to college, then you already know that you should apply for financial aid if you want to be considered for need-based aid, grants and loans. What you may not know is that there are two different financial aid applications.

First, let’s talk about the application everyone needs to fill out.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the application that is required by every college in order to consider and then award financial aid to your son or daughter. The FAFSA is free and while it will take some time to fill out, if you organize yourself ahead of time it will be much easier.

The FAFSA is a smart form which you will find very helpful. Based on the information you enter, the FAFSA customizes the questions so that you only need to answer questions that pertain to your individual situation.

While everyone needs to fill out the FAFSA, based on colleges you are applying to, some of you may need to also fill out the CSS Profile.

The Profile is only required by a couple hundred private schools in addition to some scholarship programs. Unlike the FAFSA, the Profile is not free. It will cost you $16 to register and then an additional $9 per school for each school to which you send the form. The Profile also takes longer to complete and digs deeper into your financial picture.

To help yourself out with both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, some of the information you will want to gather before you get started include:

  • Student and parents’ social security numbers
  • Student and parents’ driver’s license numbers
  • Statements for checking and savings accounts
  • Copies of last year’s tax return and W-2’s
  • Statements for any 529 accounts
  • Statements for any investment accounts
  • Current mortgage statement (Profile only)

Keep in mind that while current seniors are just filling out the FAFSA now (it went live on January 1st while the CSS Profile became available on October 1st) next year’s seniors will be able to fill out both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile starting in October.

This is a welcome change to the FAFSA as it will allow you to file financial aid applications using real numbers rather than estimates. Currently, you apply for financial aid using estimations for income and assets based on prior year information. With this new timeline, you will now use prior-prior year information – there will be no more guessing.

For those of you are very much depending on financial aid to help make a decision on where your son or daughter will be able to go to college, having this information in the fall of their senior year rather than waiting until the late spring, when they only have so many weeks left before the May 1st deadline is going to be very helpful.

There’s a lot to like about that.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.

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