It Depends is a series from the Office of College Counseling, that aims to answer some common questions asked by students and families as they navigate the college search and application process, within the context of today’s world, with today’s technology.
Check back monthly as Co-Director of College Counseling Keegan Ash poses frequently asked questions to ChatGPT and analyzes the responses, going deeper than the generic replies by reminding us, “it depends.”
Welcome to It Depends, a blog series from the College Counseling Office.
In each post, I will pose a question to ChatGPT about the college process and then respond and add perspective to the AI generated response. The goal is to provide the general content anyone could find on internet forums, or websites, or through AI, but to go one step further and add the expertise, experience, and perspective of an experienced counselor.
AI content will be displayed in normal text, while my comments will be purple and bolded to distinguish between the two perspectives.
Let's get started.
Question: What is involved in the financial aid process for prospective college students?
The financial aid process for prospective college students involves several steps to determine the amount of financial assistance they may receive to help cover the costs of their education. Here's an overview of the typical financial aid process:
1. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The FAFSA is a form used to apply for federal financial aid. It collects information about your family's income, assets, and other factors that determine your eligibility for need-based aid. The form is available online, and you'll need to submit it each year you're seeking financial aid.
This is standard. Good point. I will add that in order to complete the FAFSA, both parent and student will need to create FSA ID. To start use www.studentaid.gov.
2. Gather Required Documents: Before completing the FAFSA, gather necessary documents such as your Social Security number, driver's license, federal tax returns (including your parents' if you're a dependent student), W-2 forms, bank statements, and records of untaxed income. These documents will help you accurately fill out the FAFSA.
This is worded like it’s for the students. This is really the job of the parent. Given the FAFSA data retrieval tool, the process is much easier than years ago. If you file a standard tax return the data retrieval tool will simply use your social security number to pull all relevant information from the IRS. If you are a business owner and filing taxes for the business along with your personal, it may be better to fill in the information manually.
3. Submit the FAFSA: Fill out the FAFSA accurately and submit it online. The FAFSA opens on October 1 each year, and it's recommended to complete it as soon as possible to meet priority deadlines for financial aid consideration.
NOT THIS YEAR! Because of the changes to the FAFSA, the government has announced that those applying for aid in the 2024-2025 school year, will not have access to the FAFSA until December.
One thing that is glaringly missing from this response from ChatGPT is the possibility of required CSS Profile. This is a financial profile from CollegeBoard and some private institutions will use that in conjunction with the FAFSA. The CSS Profile will go live October 1st this year. Because of the shift in the FAFSA timeline, schools utilizing the CSS Profile will likely strongly encourage that prospective families fill that out early so they can begin producing estimated financial aid packages while they wait for FAFSA data.
4. Receive the Student Aid Report (SAR): After submitting the FAFSA, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) via email or mail. The SAR summarizes the information you provided on the FAFSA and indicates your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is used to determine your eligibility for need-based aid.
This is OUTDATED information. Now what will be shown is a measure called the Student Aid Index (SAI), which is what is used to determine a student’s ability to pay for college and the amount of financial aid they receive.
5. Review Financial Aid Packages: Once you've been accepted to colleges, they will send you a financial aid package outlining the types and amounts of aid they're offering. This may include grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, and loans. Review the packages carefully, comparing the offers from different colleges.
This is great advice. I will add that there are some great resources to review and compare. My personal favorite tool is the Award Letter Comparison Tool from College Covered. It can be found at: https://www.collegecovered.com/award-letter-tool/.
6. Apply for Additional Scholarships: Research and apply for additional scholarships from external sources, such as private organizations, community foundations, and professional associations. These scholarships can supplement your financial aid package and help reduce the overall cost of college.
Always good advice. This should be done AFTER you’ve finished all your applications. The first place I will recommend that students begin is www.goingmerry.com. There are many additional, but that is a great place to begin.
7. Make an Informed Decision: Consider the financial aid packages, including any scholarships or grants, along with the overall cost of attending each college. Assess the affordability and evaluate the potential need to take out loans. Compare the net costs and weigh them against your financial circumstances and the value of the education you'll receive.
Yes, good advice. I will only add the additional consideration of which schools will accept your AP scores. This can be a considerable savings if a school will accept the credits for AP exams you’ve taken in high school.
8. Accept or Decline Financial Aid: Once you've made a decision about the college you'll attend, accept or decline the financial aid offered by the college. Follow the instructions provided by the college's financial aid office to confirm your acceptance and secure your aid.
Remember that May 1 is the decision deadline for most decisions. However… wait for it… it depends whether you applied through a binding Early Decision application. Sometimes those are earlier deadlines to accept offers, but that is rare.
9. Stay Informed and Renew Aid Annually: Understand the requirements to maintain your financial aid eligibility, such as maintaining satisfactory academic progress. Each year, you'll need to complete the FAFSA and renew your financial aid by the specified deadlines to continue receiving aid throughout your college education.
This always a good reminder. You’re going to file the FAFSA each year in college.
It's important to note that the financial aid process can vary depending on the country and specific college or university. Be sure to check the financial aid requirements and procedures of the colleges you're applying to and consult with their financial aid offices for personalized guidance.
It never gets old how even ChatGPT is acknowledging that this process has so many nuances.
Do you have additional questions?
Perkiomen's Office of College Counseling recently hosted a workshop that discussed the Financial Aid Process. If you missed it, you may view the recording HERE with passcode HfN@WnS7.
. . .
The college process is filled with nuances, and as the name of this blog series reiterates, a lot of this process comes down to context. The answers to many questions will be “it depends.” The College Counseling Office is here to give the best advice possible within that context. Our student-centered approach is focused on meeting the needs of our students while keeping their goals in mind -- and celebrating them along the way.
If you have additional questions, schedule a time to speak with your counselor. You can use the links below to schedule a time.
Mr. Ash: https://calendly.com/kash-perk
Ms. Davidson-Kellogg: https://calendly.com/perk-davidson-kellogg
'It depends' is meant to lead to further discussion. It is an opportunity for us as counselors to ask follow-up questions. It is a chance for us to gather more information about each child in this process. We are student-centered. We know every student is unique and therefore every process will be unique. - KEEGAN ASH, Co-Director of College Counseling