College is expensive, there’s no argument there. Many families rely on financial aid to make college a possibility. For most families, that financial aid package contains a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and possible work-study for their student. So you’ve received your financial aid package (which never seems enough, but it helps) and your student has headed off to college. You’re all set. Or are you?
Although there is no guarantee that the amount of financial aid that your student is offered for freshman year will be maintained for all four years, most colleges do honor and continue their offering unless family circumstances change. Most families can count on that level of aid continuing for their student’s four years at college. If your student needs more than four years to complete his degree, you should check with the school about their policies regarding fifth year financial aid.
Your student’s financial aid should be set for his four (or possibly five) years at school. However, there are a few things that might jeopardize that aid. You and your student will need to be aware of these potential pitfalls.
- Failure to file the renewal FAFSA. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) must be filed each year. If you do not refile the FAFSA each year, your student will not be eligible for aid. Forms are available beginning in January.
- Change in family circumstances. Any significant change in your family income can affect the amount of your financial aid package. Another important factor is whether or not you have more than one student in college. Families with multiple students in college at the same time, may be eligible to receive more federal aid. If one student graduates, you should expect your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) to change.
- Failure on your student’s part to register for enough credits. To be eligible for most financial aid, students generally need to be considered ”full time”. (Unless the original financial aid package is based on part-time status.) The definition of full time status may vary by school, but is generally around 12 credits per semester. Your student should check with her school about full time status and ensure that she is registered for at least that number of credits by the end of any drop/add or enrollment change period.
- A poor GPA (Grade Point Average). Each school establishes a minimum threshold for an acceptable GPA for graduation. If your student’s grade average falls below this number (often around a 2.0), then your student may be placed on academic probation. Students on academic probation may or may not be eligible for continued financial aid. Even if your student is not on probation, many merit scholarships have a much higher threshold (sometimes as high as 3.0 or 3.5) in order to continue receiving the aid. It is important that your student know the eligibility requirements for his scholarships and aid.
- Failure to make Satisfactory Academic Progress. Satisfactory Academic Progress includes not only the student’s GPA, but also the number of credits completed. If your student drops or withdraws from too many classes, he might manage to maintain a respectable GPA, but fail to complete enough credits to be making progress. Again, this number may vary by school, but is often around 65% – 75% of attempted credits. Your student needs to be aware of not only his grades, but also his attempted credits.
It is important that you and your student be aware that all or part of his student financial aid package may be contingent on his satisfactory progress. It is important, too, as parents, that you remember the FERPA rules. Information regarding your student’s grades and progress, including financial aid information, will be released to students, not to parents. It is essential that you and your student keep an open dialogue regarding his status and progress. Both you and your student should become familiar with the school’s policies by reading the college catalog carefully and talking with the college financial aid office. Although the process may often seem overwhelming, the staff members of the financial aid office of your student’s school are experts in the rules, regulations, and procedures regarding all aspects of financial packages. Take advantage of this available resource.
For most students, financial aid, once awarded, continues without interruption throughout their college career. Being aware of the potential pitfalls, anticipating potential changes, and keeping an open dialogue with your student, will help everyone manage the college financial burden as painlessly as possible.