10 questions you should ask your financial aid office

Whether you’re starting your first year of college or returning for your senior year, you likely have a variety of questions for school officials – particularly when it comes to navigating financial aid.

Not sure which questions you should be asking? The experts at ScholarSwag have gathered some of the most important student financial aid inquiries to help guide you along the way.

1. What types of aid do you offer?

Chances are your school offers a variety of financial aid opportunities, ranging from need- and merit-based to location-based and everything in between. To get a grip on the full scope of these offerings, be sure to check with the financial aid office. From there, you’ll be able to determine which ones you’re qualified for and could potentially receive.

2. Will you meet my full financial need or will there be a gap I’m expected to make up?

Many colleges will make sure your financial need is covered in its entirety, whether through scholarships, grants or student loans. However, as Fastweb.com pointed out, some colleges – in particular, for-profit institutions – may leave financial aid shortages totaling as much as $10,000. This process is known as gapping; though this method isn’t common, it’s important to check with your school to see if it could present an issue down the road.

3. When can I expect to receive my financial aid letter?

As noted in the previous paragraph, some institutions will leave gaps within your financial aid package that you’ll need to account for – so the sooner you receive this letter, the better. At the very least, it’s reassuring to see how your financial aid package stacks up, particularly if it affects your final school decision.

4. Should I expect to receive a similar financial aid package for all four years?

As U.S. News & World Report pointed out, at times you may find yourself with first-year scholarships and grants that don’t extend into your sophomore year and beyond. Be sure to discuss each offering with your financial aid office so you’re not left with an unwelcome surprise later on.

5. On average, how much debt do your students graduate with? Do you have numbers for students in my major specifically?

According to The Wall Street Journal, a recent report from Mark Kantrowitz, publisher at Edvisors, indicated 2015 graduates can expect to graduate with more than $35,000 in student loan debt. That number can range due to a number of factors, so it’s important to find out how your school stacks up to the national average. It’s quite possible your financial aid office will have statistics broken down by major, so ask about that as well.

6. If I win a scholarship, how will that affect my financial aid?

Some colleges and universities will recalculate your financial aid package if you receive an outside scholarship. Be sure to notify financial aid staff of any scholarships you’ve received, and ask if those will potentially reduce your student loans or grants handed out from the school.

7. On average, how long does it take students to graduate? What about students in my specific program?

The amount of time you spend in school will certainly have an effect on the amount of debt you’re facing at graduation. Be sure to ask about school averages as well as specifics for students in your intended major.

8. How many hours do you require work-study participants to fulfill? If I don’t qualify for a work-study job, are there a variety of part-time jobs available on campus?

As reflected in the question above, the amount of debt you graduate with can be impacted by the amount of time you spend as a student – and that time can potentially be lengthened when adding a job into your schedule. Find out if your school has any hour requirements for work-study positions; if you don’t qualify for work-study, inquire about part-time, on-campus jobs that will put money in your pocket without cutting into your schedule too much.

9. What happens if my or my parents’ financial circumstances change?

Are you committed to the financial aid package – for better or worse? As noted by U.S. News and World Report, some schools will maintain offers given circumstances such as new employment or a death in the family while others will recalculate your original offer to reflect these life changes. Check into your school’s policy. Additionally, ask if you’re able to appeal a change and receive additional financial aid.

10. What other sources would you recommend for finding financial aid?

As the experts, your financial aid office will undoubtedly have a number of student aid resources on hand. Ask about the best places to look into for additional scholarship, grant and work-study opportunities.

For more information on financial aid and college planning, please visit ScholarSwag‘s website!

CommunityForce is recognized as the leading solution for scholarship and grants management by universities, foundations and United Ways worldwide.

Posted in Colleges, Schools, Student Prep, Universities

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