Admissions

The Truth About 3 Financial Aid Misconceptions

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The college application process is complicated enough already, so don't throw in any extra misconceptions. This is especially true when it comes to financial aid and the accumulation of debt, which our College Hopes and Worries survey has found to be the biggest worry for prospective students and their families since 2013! To help ease that worry, here are three misconceptions commonly associated with financial aid.


The Easiest Way to Win Aid Is Via Obscure Scholarships

In theory, this makes sense: If nobody else applies for a scholarship, you'll get it. Pursuing an award given for rarer skills or less conventional degrees can reduce your competition — but at the same time, those sources are likely to have far less funding to dole out than the more popular, common channels like the FAFSA. In fact, they express less than five percent of the total aid available to undergrads!

Now, we're not saying that you shouldn't still pursue scholarships that you're a perfect match for. Just don't count yourself out of the aid awarded by private colleges and federal and state governments. These are the first and second largest sources of funding, and even if there's more competition, they also fund far more students.

Non-US Citizens Won't Qualify

This is one of those tricky misconceptions that's actually grounded in a bit of fact, because some applicants are ineligible. However, permanent residents with a green card are eligible for many aid opportunities. And while international students might be shut out of applications that are awarded solely to residents, they may still qualify for funds provided directly by colleges.

This one might be persistent because of the worry some parents have that their non-resident status may impact their child's ability to receive aid. It's true that the FAFSA and other scholarship applications may ask for information to determine the entire family's financial status; however, the parents' citizenship status is actually not relevant at all in many cases, so don't let that stop you from applying!

Every School Offers the Same Aid

Just as students have their own needs and means, so do colleges. Depending on what sort of class they're looking to admit and what sort of endowments they have, they can adjust their assistance, meaning schools with deep pockets and alumni with similarly large bank accounts can afford to offer much more generous aid packages. For example, they may be able to offer lower loans and higher grants than might be available at colleges with smaller endowments.

So while the grand sum of aid offered may be similar from school to school, the composition of your financial aid package may differ depending on where you apply. The one thing that should (theoretically) remain the same from one school to another is the Expected Family Contribution, determined based on your family's finances.

With these three topics cleared up, you're well on your way to getting the help you need in terms of financial aid. For more tips on how to fund your college years, check out our books Paying for College or 8 Steps to Paying for College. We also post videos to our YouTube playlist regularly that cover topics spanning financial aid to preparing for the SAT or ACT.