Archive | March, 2016

Evaluating aid offers

24 Mar

Weighing offers can be confusing!

As your financial aid offers start coming in, you and your parents may be a little confused. The differing formats and terminology may seem like you’re being asked to compare apples with oranges.

Buffy Tanner, a counselor with the BOLD (Bachelor’s through Online and Local Degrees) program at Shasta College, has some helpful advice. (She was formerly part of the College OPTIONS organization, which has a mission to strengthen the college-going culture in the more rural areas of northern California by increasing opportunities for students to pursue and become informed about postsecondary education).

portland-1-jFirst, she says to make sure each college includes all five components of Cost of Attendance (some colleges don’t include all five on their award letters):

  • Tuition/Fees
  • Room/Board
  • Books/Supplies
  • Transportation
  • Personal Expenses

Tanner also says, “Students need to realize that the Cost of Attendance published by each school is an AVERAGE, ESTIMATED cost.  For some students, transportation costs may be more or less, they can save money by tripling up in a dorm, or by living at home, etc.  As much as possible, they should personalize that Cost of Attendance for each college to determine what they will REALLY need.”

The College OPTIONS organization has developed a Financial Aid Offer Comparison Worksheet that can help you evaluate financial aid offers. In this Excel document you can insert the numbers of each type of aid from a college (and then the next college and the next), so as to get an actual “apples to apples” comparison (instead of apples to alligators).  This tool is online:  http://www.collegeoptions.org/#!financial-aid/c8k2. (See the middle column “Tools for Award Letters” — the last bullet. There is also a link for instructions on how to use the tool.)

“There are MANY roads from point A to point B,” Tanner notes. “Some are more scenic than others, others are quicker, still others have hidden gems along the way that they don’t even know about.”

In any case, do not make rash decisions based on a quick glance of the financial aid offers. Weigh your options carefully and make sure any decision is done with the help of your parents.

Finding a community college program

7 Mar

Feather River College in Quincy, California, has an excellent transfer rate, as well as exceptional athletic programs in a beautiful mountain setting.

Feather River College in Quincy, California, has an excellent transfer rate, as well as exceptional athletic programs in a beautiful mountain setting.

If you’re interested in attending a community college but still aren’t sure which one, this California Community Colleges website link is a simple tool to find a college and a particular program: http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/maps/map.asp

Use the search tool for the particular program, such as culinary arts or photography. You will get a list of colleges in California that have that program.

If you are out of state, try a Google search to locate your state’s community college website.

Now is the time to apply to your community college, making sure that you have listed any possible schools on your FAFSA. California students will want to make sure that their California schools are at the top of that FAFSA list if they are Cal Grant eligible, so that they will be offered a Board of Governors (BOG) Waiver–the community college equivalent of a Cal Grant.

Applying now to that community college is especially important if you want to secure on-campus housing, which is limited to a handful of community colleges in California, because campus housing can fill up quickly.

You should also be setting up your placement testing in English and math. The Accuplacer (a College Board test) is one of those forms of measurement that your community college would likely use. Some community colleges might now be administering that test on your high school campus.

Again, it’s important to be proactive now about your college plans, so that you get the classes, housing and financial aid that will help support your success!

Negotiating financial aid

2 Mar

You can always plead your financial aid case with a well-written letter.

        You can always plead your financial aid case with a well-written letter.

Some of you may already be getting financial aid offers from the colleges to which you have applied — especially if you did your FAFSA early.

However, some of you may be disappointed with the offers.

Please know you can still plead your case with the financial aid office at those colleges. Do this with a letter addressed to “Financial Aid Officer” and include information that could improve your offer:

  • Information about a parent losing a job or being cut back to part-time.
  • Loss of a job you have had.
  • Information about high and unexpected expenses for situations such as medical care or a car accident.
  • Death of a supporting parent or other close family member — thus creating loss of income or increased expenses.
  • Separation of your parents — so that you now only need report income for the parent with whom you are living (or who provides the greater amount of support).

It is helpful if the school counselor or administrator can write a letter authenticating your case.

Also, the letter may receive quicker attention if the school faxes your letter to the financial aid department(s).

Please don’t delay on this. Some money pots — such as work study — are limited, and colleges can only offer what’s available.