9 Questions to Ask Your College Financial Aid Advisors BEFORE You Enroll

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These days, going to college is an expensive endeavor. If you’re planning to attend a private four-year college, for instance, you could be looking at an annual price tag of $32,410, on average.

Unless money is no issue for you and your family, it’s crucial to speak with college financial aid advisors before choosing a school. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office for guidance.

And when you do speak with a college financial aid advisor, here are nine questions to ask in order to get the full picture of your school’s cost of attendance:

1. What’s the net cost of attendance to attend?
2. How do I apply for financial aid? When’s the deadline?
3. Do you meet 100% of demonstrated financial need?
4. Do you front-load your financial aid offer?
5. Is there more financial aid available?
6. Is there a danger of scholarship displacement?
7. What salaries do students have after graduation?
8. How much debt do students leave school with?
9. What are your graduation and retention rates?

1. What’s the net cost of attendance to attend?

Although most colleges display their net cost of attendance online, it could be helpful to go over the numbers with a financial aid officer. Discuss the costs of tuition, fees, room and board, meal plans and other expenses. If the expenses feel burdensome, find out if there areas where you could reduce costs.

“The lump sum of tuition, fees, room and board can seem overwhelmingly large and fixed, but this mammoth number can often be adjusted with a few simple questions,” said Brilene Faherty, curriculum director at financial literacy website Money Experience.

“Talk to your college about making some changes to your bill by cutting down in areas that matter less to you. For example, you might choose to live in a more affordable off-campus apartment or cook your own meals instead of hitting up the dining hall,” Faherty said.

By speaking with a financial aid advisor, you might learn about strategies for reducing costs or gaining additional financial aid.

2. How do I apply for financial aid? When’s the deadline?

For many colleges, applying for financial aid simply involves submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But some schools require an additional form called the CSS Profile or even have their own school-specific forms. Plus, each institution generally has its own deadline for these forms.

Filing the right forms on time is critical if you’re relying on financial aid to attend college. Outside of deadlines, you might also ask about criteria for maintaining your financial aid award throughout college.

“Certain colleges have strict requirements related to holding on to scholarships and/or receiving financial aid,” said Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right. “These can include GPA requirements, minimum enrollment hours and sticking to a specific degree plan.”

Along with finding out how to get financial aid, ask what it takes to keep it so you don’t end up losing this important source of funding.

3. Do you meet 100% of demonstrated financial need?

Some colleges pledge to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need with financial aid. So even if a school’s sticker price looks out of reach, you might be able to afford it, thanks to its financial aid offer.

“This [question] is important for families with low Expected Family Contributions (EFC) because it could make a private university more affordable than a state school,” said Jocelyn Pearson, founder of website The Scholarship System, which helps students find gift aid.

That said, some schools might include student loans to cover funding gaps, which means your financial aid package is not as generous as it initially appeared. If a school is offering to meet your full financial need, find out if it considers loans to be part of this offer.

4. Do you front-load your financial aid offer?

Although you could get a generous financial aid offer for your first year in school, this award might not be guaranteed for all four years. In fact, some colleges “front-load” their offers to attract students. Then, as the years go on, they offer less aid.

According to Pearson, upperclassmen might also face additional fees.

“Many families figure out how to pay for the first year but are surprised [that later] years are more expensive,” she said. “Some schools enroll students as general freshmen and charge an extra fee once they are moved into a specific program as upperclassmen.”

If you’re concerned your financial aid package could shrink, then this is one of the most important questions to ask college financial aid officers.

5. Is there more financial aid available?

If you’re disappointed with your financial aid offer, there might be room to negotiate. Colleges often accept more students than actually end up enrolling. When the final numbers roll in, schools might have additional financial aid to distribute.

It’s worth reaching out to your financial aid office to find out if it can offer more aid. You might also find out about alternative opportunities for scholarships or on-campus work that could help you pay for your education.

6. Is there a danger of scholarship displacement?

Traditional wisdom says that scholarships will reduce your cost of attendance, but unfortunately that’s not the case at every school. Some colleges practice scholarship displacement, meaning they’ll reduce your financial aid award for each dollar you earn in scholarships.

“Maryland has actually made this practice illegal because it’s unfair for families,” said Pearson. “If a school does use this practice, that is important to consider, since college students can continue securing scholarships throughout their entire college career.”

Fortunately, at many colleges, your scholarships won’t displace other aid, and some will cut into your loan offers before touching your grant or work-study awards. But it’s important to find out if your school does this, so that you’re not wasting your time applying to scholarships that actually end up counteracting other financial aid programs.

7. What salaries do students have after graduation?

College is an investment, and you want to make sure you’re getting a solid return. Some questions to ask college financial aid advisors could focus on student salaries after graduation, the earning potentials of certain majors and job placement rates.

“Many career services offices located on the college campus will have this data [and] information available for you,” said Allec. “If a college is not very successful in getting their graduates jobs in a career field you are interested in, for the sake of your financial investment in your education, you may want to reconsider choosing that college to attend.”

An education is valuable in many ways, but you’ll want to be certain you’re employable after graduation, especially if you’re taking on student loans.

8. How much debt do students leave school with?

Another important issue is student loan debt. Here are some important questions to ask college financial aid advisors:

  • How many students graduate with debt?
  • What are students paying each month for their student loans?
  • How long does it typically take graduates to pay off their debt?
  • Do you offer any financial education to help students manage their student loans?

“Educate yourself about student loan management, especially as it relates to all other bills and expenses,” advised Faherty. “After you graduate, you’ll have to think about rent, feeding yourself, transportation and more. Your student loan bill won’t live in a vacuum.”

By finding out how many students are leaving with debt, you’ll have a clearer sense of which colleges are affordable — and which ones aren’t.

9. What are your graduation and retention rates?

Asking about graduation and retention rates can also help you find a college that meets your needs. According to The Education Trust, barely a quarter of schools graduate more than 50% of their students within four years. And while 77% of high-income students graduate with their bachelor’s degree by age 24, only 54% of low-income students do.

So if you’re looking at a school with a low graduation or retention rate, this could suggest that the school doesn’t adequately support students who are struggling financially. It might not have systems in place to assist students who need additional aid, an emergency loan, or work-study programs which students can balance with their academic workload.

Prepare questions to ask college financial aid advisors

Speaking with college financial aid advisors before picking your school will help you choose a college that works for your and your family’s finances. Outside of reaching out to the financial aid office, you can also use online tools, such as your school’s net cost of attendance calculator or the College Scorecard tool to dig into this data.

Although you might feel pressure to go to a top-ranked school, it’s crucial to take costs into account, especially if you’ll be borrowing student loans. This way, you can earn your valuable degree while avoiding the burden of too much student debt.

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

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