Help is available -- more than $12 billion worth -- to students planning to attend college next fall. You don't have to be poor to qualify for it, all you have to do is prove that you need it. You need it, of course, if your family's income is hovering around the poverty level.
You also need it if your family intake is moderate and you are hoping to attend a high-cost college. You may even need it if your family makes $45,000 a year or more but is sending several children to college at the same time or has other unusual expenses.
If you have the ability and the proper preparation to be admitted, private and government sources can often come up with much of the money you need. In fact, if your need is acute and you are the type of student that the college very much wishes to attract, you may be offered a combination of grants and loans and part-time work that can not only cover your college costs, but even provide an allowance for spending money and transportation to and from your home.
The key phrase for today's financial aid is: "demonstrated need." Demonstrated need is the difference between the amount a family can reasonably be expected to pay toward college expenses and the total cost of attending the particular college in which a student is interested and is offered admission.
Financial aid officers stress the fact that "demonstrated need" can vary with the institution's costs, and hence make it equally possible for the same student , with the same cost to the family, to attend either a low- or high- cost college. For example, attendance at a low-cost state college with dormitory living and tuition, fees, books, and incidental expenses might come to $3,000.
The same expenses at a private institution like Lafayette would come to some
The parent's expected contribution, though, based on "demonstrated need," would remain the same.
You tap into this $12 billion for this coming school year by starting with the FAF (Financial Aid Form), available from high school guidance counselors and college financial aid officers. This form may vary slightly in different parts of the US, but basically it consists of a core set of 46 questions about family status and finances and a supplemental form of an additional 46 questions.
Information from the core form is fed into a centralized computer to calculate the family's expected contribution.
The supplemental form is copied and made available to the colleges to which the student has applied.
Financial aid officers use the additional information to verify the original information and to deal with special circumstances.
Questions on the forms involve the amounts of family savings accounts, earnings, equity in the home, value of any family-owned business or farm, and even the income of step- parents where applicable. Parents also may be asked to submit copies of income tax forms for the previous year.
Once demonstrated need is determined, it is up to the financial aid officer of the selected college to review the figures, adjust them if special circumstances exist, and offer an aid package that will provide an appropriate combination of grants, loans, and employment to suit the family situation.
Funds for student aid come from many sources. Lafayette College aid, for example, comes from the college's own endowment, grants which it has received from private or corporate sources which are restricted to financial aid, and gifts from alumni, parents, and other friends of the college.
Some states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, offer state grant programs and award sums which are not expected to be repaid.
The federal BEOG (Basic Educational Opportunity Grant) program is available to all students who qualify on the basis of financial circumstances. It, too, provides grants with no expectation of repayment.
Who gets this aid? According to financial aid officers, the neediest students must be served first when awarding federally funded grants, loans, and jobs.
But when distributing a college's own funds, the aid officer can exercise more of his own discretion. And here, generally, preference is given to the outstanding student -- particularly one who has exceptional talents or abilities.
On many campuses, special effort is made to seek out students of various racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
It is not unusual for as many as 70 percent of all students to have some portion of their expenses defrayed by a financial aid package combining scholarships, loans, grants, fee- waivers, and student jobs.