Avoid a Lump Of Coal From the Financial Aid Office

Although most colleges trumpet how generous they are in their marketing materials, many parents learn that this is not the case.  Here are some “stocking stuffers” that could help you qualify for a few more bucks when you apply for financial aid.

Choose your colleges strategically.  Some schools are more generous than others.  In financial aid parlance, some meet a greater percentage of financial need than others.  Make sure your list contains historically generous schools.  Every college discloses this information via the Common Data Set,  a federally-mandated format.

Here’s an example.  If you are interested in The University of Maryland, google the term “University of Maryland Common Data Set.” 

Caution:  make sure you leave several hours to pore over data about your preliminary college list – do NOT do this at the last minute, it’s time-comsuming.

Understand the magic formula.  College financial aid offices use a formula to decide how much to award (or, sadly, how little).  The “double-secret” formula:

Cost of Attendance less Estimated Family Contribution = Need.

Cost of Attendance refers to the one-year cost of attending a particular college – tuition, room and board, fees, etc.

Estimated Family Contribution is a formulaic determination based on your Adjusted Gross Income, assets, type of assets, age, number of children in college and sixty-odd other factors.

Need is the amount above and beyond your EFC that the colleges will meet a PERCENTAGE of.  In other words, if your Need is $20,000, some schools will award you $15,000, some $18,000, some will meet the entire $20,000.

You will pay your EFC plus your unmet need.

Research how you stack up.  The federal Department of Education requires each college to publish a Net Cost Calculator on its website to help parents estimate their financial aid award.  This is a good way to start your research process, because you could learn that you may not be stuck paying “Sticker Price.”

Caution:  the calculators will NOT show you how to improve your eligibility. That is something you must learn on your own, through books, seminars or however else you obtain information.

For more information on how college finance works, attend one of our upcoming webinars on Financial Aid’s “Dirty Little Secrets:” 


I hope you find these tips helpful!

Andrew Lockwood is an attorney-turned-“late stage” college finance consultant and author of the book, “How to Pay ‘Wholesale’ for College.”  For more resources on college finance and admissions tips, visit his main website, AndyLockwood.com.