Merit aid

Seniors: Apply, apply, apply… for financial aid!

The single biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. So, apply! Even if you think you won't qualify, apply. You may be pleasantly surprised. And sometimes you need to apply for federal aid to receive state aid or merit scholarships.

How do you apply? The FAFSA is required for any student seeking federal and state financial aid, including grants and loans at all colleges in the country.   It can seem complicated, but there is help available -- and it's free.  One of the best resources is College Goal Sunday, an information program that brings together financial aid professionals from colleges and universities along with other volunteers to assist college-bound students and their families complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  Calendars for their national programs, as well as state-by-state events can be found at their website here.

Focusing Freshmen on the "Big Picture"

In a guest post today, Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the SAT Program at The College Board, discusses the steps high school freshmen can take to plan ahead for a college education -- a key to success. This article originally appeared on The College Board website.


As a former English teacher and high school dean of students, I know that there are few things as daunting, mysterious and exciting to a teenager than freshman year of high school. It’s a whole new world: the hallways are foreign and at larger schools, students sometimes feel as though they need a GPS to get from class to class; the upperclassmen seem so much older and are brimming with a glowing confidence; teacher expectations and homework may require substantial adjustment. And college seems like a distant point on the horizon.

Part of the trepidation may be what adults understand as not being able to see the forest for the trees. However, when students are able to envision how the various academic courses and opportunities in arts, athletics and other programs that develop interests (the school paper, community service or a part-time job) form the "Big Picture," they are able to navigate this terrain successfully, with greater purpose and enjoyment.

February Financial Aid Checklist

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month! And college advisor Alice Kleeman is back with advice on what students and families should be doing this month in applying for financial aid.

*              Because February is Financial Aid Awareness Month, there are usually numerous initiatives to educate families during these weeks. Look for financial aid nights at local high schools, any "open office hours" a financial aid office might hold for prospective students, national programs such as College Goal Sundays or state programs such as California's Cash for College Workshops. Attend with your family so that you are sure you've done everything possible in pursuing financial aid opportunities.

*              Finish the FAFSA if you have not already done so! Again, you do NOT have to wait until you and your parents have filed your income tax returns; you may use estimates on the FAFSA and then update the information once you have filed your income tax forms. It is better to file on time with estimates than to file late!

*              Pay attention to deadlines this month! February is a time when many deadlines kick in.

Frank Palmasani, Hinsdale South High School

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. So who better to feature as our Counselor of the month than Frank Palmsani?  A veteran counselor now in his 20th year at Hinsdale South High School in Darien, Illinois, Palmasani is also the originator of the Financial Fit Method, a program that provides families with a step-by-step process for figuring out affordable colleges, how to file financial aid documents, how to pay for college and how to analyze award letters. His guide to choosing and paying for college, Right College, Right Price, was published in January.

Palmsani spends his days at Hinsdale South, a comprehensive high school -- and a magnet school for the deaf -- with a diverse population -- socioeconomically, ethnically, and academically -- of approximately 1800 students. One of nine counselors at the school, Palmasani is charged with assisting students with personal, social, and academic concerns, as well as college counseling and selection and career/vocational plans.

How Financial Aid Influences Students' Thinking

"To some extent, families and students are engaged in what appears to be naive or wishful thinking not only about how they will pay for college, but the kind and level of financial support they are likely to receive," according to a new poll from the College Board and Art & Science Group, LLC. Despite the federal requirement that colleges include net-price calculators on their websites, the studentPOLL study found that slightly more than half of the 1,461 students surveyed had ruled out colleges on the basis of the sticker price alone without considering their likely financial aid awards. At the same time, the poll found students also hold unrealistic expectations about the likelihood of receiving merit aid. 

Understanding financial aid is crucial for students and their families. Students and their families should start learning about and investigating financial aid as early as possible in the process so that opportunities aren't lost. The studentPoll study may provide some motivation. The poll findings and conclusions can be seen here.

Can You Negotiate Merit Aid?

Financial aid -- need-based and merit -- is much on the minds of students and parents these days. As we get questions on these subjects, we will be posting responses here as blog post when we feel they may be helpful to a range of our readers  Today we answer one of our readers who posed this question in response to an earlier post titled "Can You Negotiate Merit Aid?"

Darryl wrote:  St.John University offered my son a 10k merit award. He also was accepted to Howard University. His first choice is Howard. Can I use the 10k merit award from St. John University as a bargaining chip so Howard could match or make a counter-offer?

Different colleges will handle this differently. Some schools will be flexible. For other schools, merit aid awards are final and non-negotiable, as noted by Purdue University's Pamela Horne in the article in this post.

However, colleges usually welcome all information about a student's financial situation. So it doesn't hurt to ask. But how you approach the college is key.

Can you negotiate merit aid?

The Choice blog at the New York Times has a nice round-up on the “Merit Aid Negotiation” panel at the annual College Board conference which aimed to answer the question we posed in our headline here. The panel included two Deans of Admission featured in True Admissions' "5 Questions" -- Purdue's Pamela Horne and University of Chicago's Jim Nondorf. Check it out here.