Students from families with income below $50,000 should follow all the steps outlined in the year-specific checklists.
But before you begin the basic steps set out in each checklist, there are a few additional tips and suggestions we would like to highlight.
Don’t be distracted by the Sticker Price of a particular college or by your estimated FAFSA EFC.
Instead, focus on the Net Price for all potential target colleges and don’t make any assumptions about the affordability of a particular school until you have done your homework. Most students pay a discounted price for college. This discounted price is called the Net Price.
And don’t be afraid to think Big!
If you are a strong student, then you will be able to afford many of the very best colleges (like the Ivy League schools) even though they look very expensive at first glance.
So, don’t be afraid to explore the most elite colleges and universities if you have the grades and scores to get in. Many of the most prestigious colleges have extremely generous financial aid programs. There are Approximately 70 colleges that commit to meeting 100% of calculated financial need. These schools are often the most affordable options for students from lower-income family backgrounds who have the academic credentials to be admitted.
Research these schools to see if they are an academic fit and run some net price estimates to see if they are a financial fit.
Even if you are not a top student, there are many paths to a college degree and it is important to understand all your options at the beginning of your college search process.
If, after running your net price estimates, it looks like you may not be able to afford a traditional four-year residential college experience, you can start in a two-year program at a local community college or if possible commute from home while attending a local four-year college.
Guess what? – That’s OK!
Even though the FAFSA EFC is not an accurate measure of how much you will pay for college, it is worth calculating your estimated EFC to see if you are eligible for a federal Pell Grant. The Pell grant is a discount that will reduce your net price at every college.
Use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your EFC.
Having an accurate estimate of your federal Pell Grant will also help you assess the accuracy of some of your Net Price estimates, especially at schools that use the very basic Net price calculator tool.
And, knowing that you are eligible for a Pell grant will help you in your Outside Scholarship search as there are some scholarships that require Pell Grant eligibility in order to apply – such as the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program.
Even though Work-Study is not a discount that reduces your Net Price, it is an important resource that helps many students pay forcollege. Unfortunately, not all colleges are able to guarantee on-campus work-study employment, so you should make note of schools that include work-study in their net price calculator results.
Although there is legitimate concern about student loan debt, a college education is still an excellent investment – even if it requires some student loan borrowing. For many undergraduate students the funding provided by federal student loans is the difference between earning a degree and not earning a degree. The key is learn how to borrow responsibly and how to properly manage repayment after graduation if you need to borrow to pay for your education.