College access basics

 


100% Meet Need Colleges

Colleges that meet 100% of need are schools that promise to make sure that all students’ financial need (usually determined by FAFSA) is completely covered through grants, work-study, scholarships, and sometimes loans.

Most students will still have an expected family contribution (EFC) and will have to cover that by paying out of pocket, finding scholarships, or taking out loans.

If you aren’t able to attend a school that meets 100% of need, you should still look for schools that meet a large portion of need. 80% and up is a good number to look for.


Different Types of Financial Aid

  • Grants: don’t need to be repaid. FREE MONEY! Usually received from the schools themselves
    • You usually don’t have to apply for grants; they are given to you as part of your financial aid package from each school
    • You don’t need to pay back as long as you meet all the requirements
    • You probably will not receive enough grant money to meet your EFC
    • Federal grant programs fact sheet (in English and Spanish)
  • Scholarships: don’t need to be repaid. FREE MONEY! Received from schools or outside organizations
    • There are thousands of different types of scholarships with vastly different amounts
    • Remember your EFC: If you have an EFC of $4,000, you can apply to and receive four $1,000 scholarships to meet your EFC – you don’t have to find one $4,000 scholarship
      • Even scholarships that seem small can be worth applying to if they help you fill your EFC gap
    • If you have a specific characteristic, you can google scholarships for that characteristic and see what pops up – e.g. “scholarships for left-handed people,” “scholarships for relatives of police officers” (these are real scholarships you can apply for!)
  • Work-study: part-time employment through the school as part of your financial aid package
  • Loans: need to be repaid with interest
    • Federal loans are better than private loans – lower interest rates, more options
    • Do NOT take out private/bank loans – interest rates are crazy!
    • Try to minimize the amount of loans you are taking out
    • At the same time, don’t be scared of loans
      • You can pay it as soon as you start working
      • A lot of people have debt after school
      • You can think about it as an investment in your future – it is not the end of the world to have student loans
  • Types of federal loans:
    • Perkins: tied to the university
    • Direct subsidized: only available to students with financial need; government pays interest while you’re in school
    • Direct unsubsidized: available to any student (not just based on need); interest starts right away
      • Avoid unsubsidized loans if possible to avoid paying more money
  • Learn more about different types of student loans

Early Action (EA)

  • Earlier deadline and earlier decision
  • Non-binding: if you are accepted early action, you do NOT have to go to that school
  • Apply early action if you have a specific school you’re really interested in that you would go to — get the process over with sooner
  • Some schools (e.g. Princeton, Harvard, Boston College) have Single Choice Early Action/Restrictive Early Action
    • This means the school only allows you to apply EA if you don’t apply EA to any other private schools
    • Still non-binding if you get EA

Early Decision (ED)

  • Earlier deadline and earlier decision
  • BINDING: if you are accepted early decision, you HAVE to go to that school
    • For this reason, do NOT apply ED to any school that does NOT meet 100% of need. If you are accepted ED, you won’t get your financial aid package at the same time. If the school doesn’t cover 100% of need, you will be on the hook for paying
  • Slightly higher chance of being accepted
  • Apply early decision if you have a specific school you’re really interested in that you’ve visited and that meets full need

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The amount a student/their family is responsible for paying out of pocket for the student’s college costs. The EFC is typically determined by family income, assets, and family size/other dependents.

When you fill out your FAFSA, you will get an EFC. Some colleges will give you a different EFC based on their own calculations.

You can estimate your EFC with the FAFSA4caster and net price calculators at schools you’re interested in.

FAFSA and financial aid packages at schools that you’re accepted to will give you the final amount you are expected to contribute (see sample award letter here)

Sometimes, the amount that the federal government expects you can pay is different than the reality. Students will an EFC gap can make it up through scholarships. This is why, when you are applying to scholarships, you should keep your EFC in mind.


FAFSA

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is required to apply for federal student aid like grants, work study, and certain types of loans. It is the first step to getting money for college.

The FAFSA is released on October 1. Apply as soon as possible after October 1 to give yourself the best chance at getting the most money possible.

  • To fill out the FAFSA, go here.
  • List of what you will need to fill out the FAFSA
  • FAFSA4caster: estimates how much financial aid you are likely to get

Fly-in Programs

Programs where colleges fly students to their campus to spend a few days – see the campus, meet current students, sit in on classes. One of the best ways to really see what that college is like on a daily basis. Typically held by selective to highly selective colleges, and often free to the student.

How to apply? Each program is different. Application deadlines range from summer to early October.


Net Price Calculators

Similar to the FAFSA4caster, but for a specific school. Use the school’s net price calculator to estimate how much financial aid you will receive at that school.

Easiest way to find a net price calculator for a specific school is to google “school’s name net price calculator”. You can also search for specific schools with net price calculators here


Rolling Admissions

Means that admissions decisions are returned in the order in which they were received. Most common at less-selective schools.


Test Optional Schools

Some colleges don’t require applicants to submit their standardized test scores when they apply. These colleges are considered test optional.

Some test optional schools require students submit other materials – such as essays, portfolios, school assignments – instead of their standardized test scores.

You should apply to test optional schools if you:

  • have a good GPA but feel your SAT scores don’t reflect your ability
  • would be a competitive applicant for more selective schools if your SAT score was higher
  • are interested in any of the schools on these lists

FairTest’s list of test optional schools

Yleana’s list of test optional schools