To Get Money For School - Some Things You Need To Know

As you begin your efforts to help your teen get money for school, you're likely to be bombarded with all kinds of information.  Some of it will be good and some not no good.  How do you tell the difference and decide just what options you have?

The following offers good information that should prove helpful to you.

The Basics Of College Financial Aid
By Todd Johnson

Before we get into specifics we need to make sure that the basics of financial aid are covered. There are three basic types of financial aid for college: grants or scholarships, loans and work-study.

Grants and scholarships
are free money that you do not need to pay back.

Most grants and scholarships come from the federal government or the college itself.

need to be paid back after college.

There are many loan programs available from the federal and state government. Some of these are available only to families with low income and most have fairly low interest rates.

is a job offered on the campus of the college.  

Here are some things you need to know about financial aid.

Need based aid
is given by all colleges to students who have need. Anyone who can’t pay the full cost of the college has need.

A form called the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA) determines the amount of need for federal grants and scholarships. Most selective colleges also require a form known as the Profile or one of their own institutional financial aid forms. The FAFSA form is filled out after January 1 of the year the student will first attend college.

The FAFSA and Profile forms ask questions about the income of the parents and student using information that you gave on your tax returns. These forms also ask questions about the amount of money you have in savings or investments. The Profile form is more detailed than the FAFSA form.  Once these forms are completed the government uses the FAFSA form to determine how much your family can pay for college.  Similarly the individual colleges who use the Profile use that form to determine what your what your family can pay for college.

Merit-based aid
includes scholarships typically for students who have good grades or have some other special talent.  
Most highly selective colleges offer little or no merit-based aid.


So now that you know some of the basics what do you really need to know to understand financial aid?

First, look to see if the colleges you are interested in meet 100% of your families need. Remember need, as used here, isn’t how much you think you can afford, it is how much the colleges think you can afford. So what does it mean if a college says they will meet 100% of your need? It means that once the FAFSA or Profile form has determined how much you can pay for college, the college will pay 100% of the rest of the bill.

Colleges will typically meet the need you have using a combination of grants, loans and work study.  Most colleges will award work study and loans first and if there is a need after that, the remaining need will be supplied by grants.  The colleges will typically have a standard loan and work study amount that they award and you should ask about what these numbers are when investigating the college. 

Let's see an example of a financial aid award from an imaginary college that provides 100% of need. 

Total cost of college                          $45,000
Families expected contribution           $  8,000
Need                                                $37,000

Financial aid award

Work study                                         $  2,000
Loans                                                 $  4,000
Grants                                                $ 31,000

But what happens if the college doesn’t meet 100% of need?

Many less selective colleges don’t pay the total amount of need that their students have. Let's use the example of our imaginary college from above only this time assume that the school only provides 90% of need. 

Total cost of college                                      $45,000
Families expected contribution                       $  8,000
Need                                                            $37,000

This college only provides 90% of the $37,000 need or $33,300. Thus, your families out of pocket expenses are the $8,000 plus an additional $3,700.

This example makes it easy to see why a school that meets 100% of need is often a better financial aid "deal" than a school who doesn't meet all of the families need. 

However, many of the colleges that don’t meet 100% of a students need do offer scholarships for some students.  If your student is near the top of the application pool for a less selective college they may get more than 100% of your need as the college attempts to buy the student. Thus, in some cases, if the student is willing to look at a less selective college, they may get a better financial aid package.

How is financial aid determined after the first year?

Some colleges have a policy of providing good financial aid for the first year and then substantially reducing the aid in the following years. You should ask the college in which you are interested how they determine financial aid after the first year and what the average loan is after the first year. 

What is the average loan amount at graduation of those students who have loans?

This is a question that you want to ask of all colleges. This will give you the best indication of the amount of loans that this college requires compared to other colleges in which you may be interested.  Although most students will have some loans when they graduate, you don't want this amount to be any more than necessary. 

What is your policy regarding outside scholarships? 


Some schools deduct money earned in outside scholarships from your financial aid package.  Some schools reduce your loan burden, but other schools reduce your grant money.  Obviously, reducing the loan would be more favorable to you!


·What is your “packaging policy”?

Most schools give an aid package that includes grant money (scholarships), loans and or work study. Ask the following questions:

In general, what percentage of an aid package from your college is grant vs. self-help (loans, work study)?

Do you have a “preferential packaging” policy? - e.g. If two students have equal demonstrated financial need, do they give more grant aid (or a better overall aid package) to the student with a stronger academic profile?

Do they give any type of merit-based aid (scholarships for students with high academic profiles regardless of their family’s financial circumstances)?

If you have specific questions regarding financial aid at any college to which you are considering applying, you should contact that college directly.

Author Info:
Todd Johnson, a lawyer and college consultant, is the principal college admission consultant for College Admissions Partners. Todd provides personalized service to help students and families through the complete college admissions and financial aid process. He can be reached through the website

Additional resources on how to get money for school:




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