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4 Don't Assume You Don't Qualify


This article is from the Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Fellowships FAQ, by Mark Kantrowitz with numerous contributions by others.

4 Don't Assume You Don't Qualify

Don't assume that you don't qualify for financial aid. Virtually all
US citizens or eligible non-citizens enrolled at least half-time are
now eligible for some form of financial aid, including the Federal
unsubsidized Stafford Loan and the Federal Parent Loan for
Undergraduate Students (PLUS). Even if you don't qualify for a grant,
you may still be eligible for other forms of financial assistance.

Many families don't apply for financial aid because they believe that
they earn too much money or own a home, or because their friends and
relatives have told them that they won't qualify. They then prevent
themselves from getting any aid by failing to apply for it. You don't
need to be poor to get financial aid. For example, some loans and
scholarships are available regardless of need, and the number of
family members in college can significantly affect your eligibility
for aid. Also, as mentioned previously, a parents' home equity or
retirement programs are no longer considered in the federal
methodology need analysis formula. There are several factors in
addition to income that are used to determine your eligibility for
financial aid, and there is no simple cut-off based on income. Talk to
the school's financial aid administrators if you have any questions.

You can't get aid if you don't apply. So you should definitely fill
out the FAFSA and apply for financial aid if you feel you may need

Do not think of the federal student assistance programs as
charity. They are designed more as cash flow assistance than a
handout, allowing you to spread the expense of college over many

It is important to apply for financial aid before admission, even if
you think you won't qualify during your first year. For example, the
Brown University Guidebook for Undergraduate Financial Aid says

"... it is important that students who plan to apply for admission
to Brown apply for financial aid as well if they have reason to
believe that the costs of attendance exceed what they and their
parents can reasonably be expected to contribute. Only under the
most extraordinary circumstances is it possible to grant
scholarship aid to first year students who failed to apply for aid
before admission. Budget limitations may also preclude the
granting of University scholarships to new upperclass applicants."

Moreover, don't apply only to those schools you think you can afford.
The more expensive schools may provide larger financial aid packages
to compensate for the greater cost of attendance. Do not reject any
school simply because of the high cost of tuition and room and
board. Tuition and living expenses are like list prices; universities
offer financial aid packages as discounts against the list price to
bring the cost closer to what you can afford. Compare schools based on
the bottom line, not the list price. You may find that the difference
in the bottom line is not as significant a factor as you previously
assumed. Do not limit your initial choice of schools by the high
price tag.

It is, however, a good idea to apply to several different types and
costs of schools for insurance purposes. Just as you apply to one or
two safety schools that you are sure will admit you, you should also
apply to a few schools you are certain you can afford.

Certainly college costs should be one of the factors you consider when
deciding where to go to school, but it shouldn't be the *only*

Many students and parents avoid the financial aid office, thinking of
the financial aid office as "the enemy". Most financial aid office
employees are dedicated (underpaid and overworked) professionals who
want to help you as much as they can. Their job is to distribute
limited funds fairly to all the students. Within their constraints,
however, they will do their best to ensure that you can afford to
graduate from their university. True, their estimate of what you can
afford may not match your own assessment, but they aren't out to get
you. They will try to help you if you ask.


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