How is Need Based College Aid Determined – Part 2

Harold Sasnowitz |

While part 1 of this blog outlined how need-based aid is determined from the FAFSA, this part talks about things to do long before getting to the FAFSA.

First, consider timing:  if you’re completing the FAFSA for a student entering college in the Fall of 2020, the FAFSA supplied data will come from the 2019 IRS form 1040.  Any shifting around of income and assets should be done and reflected during calendar year 2018 – obviously way too late to do now.  However, this implies this should have been done during the student’s sophomore year of high school.  So, remember this for your next college bound student.

Second, realize that there is earlier planning that could and should have occurred.  Recall from Part 1 that an important part of $Aid is the cost of the school:

$Aid = $Cost of the school – $Expected family contribution

While it may be tempting to look for a more costly school to increase the value of $Aid, a second thought should reveal that it is more important to decrease the amount that has to be paid by the family, irrespective of the calculation.  Obviously, one way to do this is to decrease the cost of the school, $School.  But even more importantly, look for a school that will find your student more desirable.

Obviously, the school needs to offer the field of study your student is interested in.  Beyond that, start looking at the numbers.  Really selective schools, like Cornell (my alma mater), admit a small percentage of applicants.  Therefore, your student will have to be really attractive to get much aid.  Schools with higher percentage rate acceptances are more likely to give more aid to a given student than one with a low rate of acceptances.

What makes an applicant desirable? 

  • Quality extracurricular activities – the so-called well-rounded student
  • A geographically distant resident or a demographically unique student - many want diversity in the student population
  • Grades and test score in the top 25% - 33%

Applying for financial aid of any kind is a daunting process.  We hope this note will get you started earlier and with more direction.

-Harold Sasnowitz