College: Navigating financial aid maze

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

Last month, I asked the question, ‘Will you enroll in a college after you graduate high school?”

If you answered yes, let’s move forward and explain the different avenues you can navigate to see if the college of your choice is affordable.

Affordability is an important factor for prospective students and their families to consider — and not just the first year. Your projections should consider a four-year run culminating with your graduation.

I first recommend utilizing a product found on every college website called a Net Price Calculator. The calculator allows a student to self-populate information ranging from grade point average to your home residence to special interests.

The more accurate information you provide will result in the calculator’s best estimate of financial support you could receive from the federal government, state and the college itself.

Remember, it is an estimate, yet it provides a valid starting point for determining aid.

Your next step is to apply at your college(s) of choice and receive your acceptance letter(s).

Your acceptance allows the institution to offer you various scholarships and grants that you will not have to pay back — contingent upon graduating from high school and based on your grade point average and ACT/SAT scores, if applicable.

Also, once in college, you will likely be required to maintain certain criteria in order to renew each award annually. Seek to understand what awards are renewable and for how long.

Congratulations, you have just been awarded funds that you can immediately deduct from the total cost as a resident or commuting student in lieu disclosing any financial information.

At this point, you are half way through the affordability process.

The College will then suggest that you complete a FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form that can be prepared annually by current and prospective college students (undergraduate and graduate) in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid.

The FAFSA allows each student to see potentially what additional aid could be awarded. Most colleges have supplemental need-based funds for students showing additional need. The FAFSA form will illustrate this need if the form is completed correctly.

This is a new experience for many families, especially those whose student is the first to attend college. You may consider seeking assistance from college staff to help guide you through the FAFSA completion process.

Wilmington College will host Financial Aid Help Night Nov. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m., in Room 149 of the Center for the Sciences and Agriculture.

Information will cover the FAFSA and other such financial aid concerns as federal and state grants, federal loans and federal work-study.

NOTE: For Clinton County residents, completing the FAFSA is the only way eligibility can be determined for entry into Wilmington College’s Clinton County SUCCEEDS program.

This comprehensive process to determine the amount of funding available and, subsequently, your final total net cost is available to all students at no charge.

In addition, many colleges offer monthly payment plans in order for families to plan ahead and minimize borrowing. Be sure to review the loans you may be offered with regard to interest accumulation.

Once you have the final award letter(s) in front of you, then it’s time to consider those colleges’ affordability via net cost and the amount you are willing to pay — versus the value you expect to receive in return.

Dennis M. Kelly is Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management at Wilmington College, and he supervises the Clinton County SUCCEEDS program, which this fall led to a record number of local residents attending Wilmington College.

Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist