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Financial aid, FAFSA, Forms, Fun and… CSS Profile?

By: tauu
Jul 05, 2009

Financial aid forms; definitions of terms, CSS Profile versus FAFSA, differences between the aid given by
public and private universities and why even higher level income students would apply for aid.

And of course, by “fun”, I mean not at all. Who wants to fill out a bunch of intrusive forms, especially while stressing out about college? It’s worth it though. Let’s start out by defining some basic terms and ideas:

"Need-blind" means that the college accepts students without considering their financial abilities. Many of these colleges meet their students’ full demonstrated need with a "no loan" aid package. There is no disadvantage in the admission process.

“Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) is exactly what it sounds like: how much you and your family can reasonably be expected to pay.

After filling out the FAFSA, financial aid comes mainly from the government and the school you will be attending. Government aid can come in the form of

Grants, aid based on income that you do not pay back to the government,

Student Loans, money the government sends to your college, but you will need to pay back over time,
Parent Loans, money the government sends to your college, but your parents will need to pay back or

Work-Study, a program where you can work on campus or in the local community and get paid by the government (a work week for these jobs is typically 7.5 hours).

Many colleges provide their own aid to students and many elite private colleges guarantee to meet all demonstrated need (in grants and loans). This amount covers what the government aid and EFC do not cover.

However, to receive this aid, many colleges require the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile application is a service provided by the College Board (collegeboard.org) that asks for a little more information than the FAFSA, has a registration fee of $5 and an $18 reporting fee per college. These fees may be waived if CSS Profile deems it appropriate (no other form is required for a fee waiver). Oftentimes, the aid given by a private university is so much greater than the aid given by a public university that private education becomes the less expensive option. For example, “Private University A” has a total cost is $44,000. Federal aid received is $5,000, EFC is $1,500 and university aid is $37,000. Therefore the unmet need is $0 and the total cost for you is $1,500. “Public University Z” has a total cost of $18,500. Federal aid received is $5,000, EFC is $1,500 and university aid received is $5,000, resulting in an unmet need of $7,000. The total cost to you is $8,500.

Financial aid available has increased considerably for students with families in the low- and middle-income ranges, nearly 50% of families earning over $80,000 are eligible for aid; this means about three out of every four students at private colleges qualified for aid.

Now, higher level income students may be thinking, “How does this apply to me?” Well, taking a look at Princeton’s financial aid for the class of 2012 [http://www.princeton.edu/pr/aid/pdf/PU-aid-glance-0809.pdf], you’ll note that 82% of students with an income between $180,000 and $200,000 still receive aid for 65% of their tuition. That doesn’t eliminate aid for the above $200,000 level either. Princeton also goes on to detail aid for many income levels and the link is definitely worth looking at, as it even lists variables for grant sizes. Worth almost as much as filling out your financial aid forms.

Good luck!

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