Blog College Preparation, Parents

4 Things Parents Should Know about Paying for College

Thursday, February 8, 2018


In the fourteen years I’ve worked in admissions, Northwestern has made tremendous steps toward making the process easier for families: eliminating extra paperwork, increasing education about and transparency around the process, and enacting opportunities so that every admitted student receives free gift aid. (Yes, it’s true: 100%!) 

In addition, applying for financial aid has moved online, saving time and reducing errors, and awarding at most schools has moved earlier, giving students more time with the bottom line before making a final college decision. 

Paying for college is, quite honestly, the greatest fear for the families we work with in admissions. They understand the value of our integration of faith and learning, the world-class education, and our incredible campus. But the fear and uncertainty around cost remains. Here are four important things every parent should know about paying for college.

1. Applying for financial aid is easier than ever before. 

Applying for financial aid has gotten the reputation for being a scary, distressing process, but in reality, it’s not very difficult. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is completed online, and—unlike in years prior to 2016—it is available as early as October 1st of the student’s senior year. Since it was made available earlier, it collects tax information from two years ago (what we call PPY or “prior-prior year”); this removes so many barriers for families and, depending on the school, allows a student to get a financial aid package much earlier. 

2. Verification: huh? 

Don’t be alarmed if your family is selected for a process called verification. It’s merely an audit the government does with 1/3 of the families completing the FAFSA, and is usually is as simple as requesting a tax transcript. If your child is selected, their colleges will give you simple instructions to follow. 

3. Don’t forget about appeals. 

The FAFSA can be vague and sometimes doesn’t accurately reflect your family’s financial situation, but colleges and universities have limited authority to make adjustments to a student’s eligibility when circumstances arise that are out of the control of the parent/student. Some common appeals include a reduction in income, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and tuition expenses at a private elementary or secondary school. 

4. Outside scholarships are amazing—so long as you have a plan. 

There are lots of scholarships out there which a student can take to the school of his or her choice, but many high school seniors are so busy that they never find the time to search for and apply for them. Agree on a realistic expectation for how much time and effort your student should be putting into this. One hour every Sunday afternoon feels bite-sized, but over the course of the school year, it amounts to more than 30 hours dedicated to the scholarship search!

Have questions? Northwestern admission counselors and financial aid officers are available for appointments five days a week! While you’re here, take a tour, experience chapel, and stay for lunch. Just schedule a personalized visit. We can’t wait to meet you.