Make sure your college choices fit financially!

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Ask about the total cost of attendance- tuition, mandatory fees, room and board, books and materials, transportation and living costs.  Every school is required to provide this information and it is usually posted clearly on the Office of Student Financial Aid website for each school.  Also ask how many students at that school graduate in  4, 5, 6 years or more.  Those extra years can add significantly to your total price!

Look at what are called Net Price Calculators for a few schools. Every school will have the NET Price Calculator on the school website.  The net price is the amount a student pays to attend a school in a single year after subtracting any scholarships and grants. Plug in your income and savings and get an estimate of what you’ll be expected to pay.  This amount may be very different from what you think your family can afford or what the government says according to your FAFSA numbers.  If a school’s Net Price Calculator shows a number beyond your budget or intended loan amount, think carefully!  Student loans can be very burdensome and take many years to repay.  Before focusing on low-odds external scholarships, consider lower cost colleges that may meet the student’s educational, social, athletic, AND financial needs.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Create your FAFSA ID online for both parent and child before submitting your application on or after October 1 of Senior year.  Although it can be complicated, if you gather the necessary paperwork before filing, it isn’t so bad.  FAFSA uses the information from 2 years ago. For example, if you are planning for college in the Fall of 2020, use your 2018 IRS tax return. The average completion time is only about 3o minutes.  All federal aid requires FAFSA; Many university, state and private scholarships (including merit awards) require it too. Submitting a FAFSA is necessary for federal financial aid like Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants and many loans, such as federally subsidized or unsubsidized loans and PLUS Loans.

Keep in mind that:

  • If you have children in college at the same time, your household’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) will decrease and your chances of qualifying for aid will increase.
  • File early to increase your chances of getting aid at your schools. Financial aid (merit and need-based) is limited and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
  • You can get an idea of your EFC using this free calculator from College Board.
  • When a student’s parents are divorced, the FAFSA must be completed by the parent with whom the student lived the most during the 12-month period ending on the application date. This is regardless of which parent claimed the student as an exemption on their federal income tax return.  Even if physical custody is split 50/50, count the actual days!  Most years have 365 days so the student will probably be spending at least 1 extra day with mom or dad.
  • Furthermore, for divorced parents, if the parent who is submitting the FAFSA is remarried, the stepparent’s income and assets must be reported on the FAFSA as well, regardless of any prenuptial agreements. The stepparent’s other children must be counted if the stepparent provides more than half of their support, even if they do not live with the stepparent.

In addition, many colleges also require a CSS Profile

The College Scholarship Service (CSS) is an online application to determine eligibility for non-federal financial aid, which is administered by the College Board. Unlike the FAFSA, there is a fee to apply. The first application is $25 and reports to additional schools are $16 each. The CSS Profile collects more detailed information about your family’s finances and considers assets that the FAFSA doesn’t, including home equity, and the value of family farms and small family businesses. Schools that use CSS Profile take a more holistic look at a family’s finances and use greater discretion when awarding aid. Colleges that use the CSS Profile can also add customized questions and adjust their deadlines and the formula for determining aid.  Each CSS school is different. While it can be tedious and time-consuming, the benefits can be well worth the trouble.

Keep in mind that:

  •  If you qualify for an SAT fee waiver, you will also get your Profile fee waived. This usually applies to students whose parents’ annual income is less than $45,000.
  • If parents are divorced, BOTH parents may still be required to fill out the CSS Profile application.
  • Some of the schools that use CSS Profile only look at the incomes of the mother and the father to assess what the biological parents’ financial picture is; the stepparents are not factored in.  Other CSS Profile schools consider stepparents.

Eligible Georgia students (regardless of income) can earn scholarship money for in-state colleges using the HOPE Scholarship or Zell Miller Scholarship

Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship is available to Georgia residents who have demonstrated academic achievement. The scholarship provides money to assist students with the educational costs of attending a HOPE eligible postsecondary institution located in Georgia.  Be sure to check your HOPE GPA to see if you’re on track to earn the HOPE or Zell Miller Scholarship. Sign in or create a GAfutures account at and learn more about how your HOPE GPA is calculated.