How To Navigate College Financial Aid: 5 Questions Your Daughter Should Ask Her Dream School

While your daughter may have a dream school she wants to attend, as her mom, you’ll want to help her know how to navigate the college financial aid landscape. That landscape has changed over the years, which is why knowing and speaking to another mom for guidance would definitely be helpful.

Even if your daughter’s dream school is heavily recruiting her, it’ll be important to know how committed they are to keeping your daughter matriculated, financially-speaking? The old adage, “Follow the money (train)” is quite applicable, because not all colleges are created equal.

When our twin daughters were considering colleges, their dreams and aspirations mostly revolved around what kinds of programs and campus life activities did the college have in place. Money, while a big consideration, was assumed to “be available” for “the best and the brightest” as both had graduate magna cum laude from a competitive high school. At all the campus tours, they asked really great questions – some that I did not even consider that they would find important; even the “money question.” And the campus reps gave great answers like: “Yes, we have a great endowment” and “all of out students receive financial aid packages.”

However, now looking back on the past four collegiate years, our daughters would definitely concur that they wished they would have known back then what they know now about the financial aid landscape. So, below are the following 5 questions are questions that they (and I as their mom) wished they’d known to ask before ever matriculating as a student at their respective colleges.

Question #1: How are outside Scholarships handled by Financial Aid?

  • Here you are listening to find out what happens to your scholarship.
  • Some schools put it in a student’s account so that it “is the student’s money” to use for school-related expenses (e.g. books, technology, campus meals, etc.)
  • Some schools will use it (without your input) to “apply” it to OR reduce the amount of any institutional loans first, and then decrease any government loan allotments.

Key Takeaway: Know to whom scholarship check will be written to — if it’s made out to your school, then the school can use it how they see fit; if it’s made out to you, then find out if there are any additional specific requirements for how the money is to be reported and distributed.

Question #2: Does the college do “need blind” admissions?

  • “Need Blind Admission” is when it’s a college’s policy to NOT take into account an applicant’s financial status when deciding whether or not to accept them.
  • This does not mean that they have to help you with paying for all of your college costs. However, when they say they do, then your follow-up question needs to be: “What percentage of the package includes loans?”
  • As of today in 2023, the top 12 schools that have the best “need blind admissions” — they meet 100% of financial need without loans — are:
    • Columbia
    • Harvard
    • Amherst
    • Princeton
    • Stanford
    • Swarthmore
    • MIT (my BFF hubby’s alma mater 😊)
    • Pomona,
    • Brown University (my alma mater 😊)
    • Bowdoin
    • UChicago
    • Davidson

Key Takeaway: Need Blind Admission does not mean 100% financial aid without loans.

Question #3: What percentage of a typical financial aid package is comprised of loans?

  • College grants: even if a college says that they also offer “grants and scholarships,” your follow-up questions need to be:
    • “Do those grants remain constant over 4 years?” and
    • “Under what circumstances would those grants be changed or exchanged or deleted from a student’s financial aid package?”

Key Takeaway: Weigh the loans now or they could make you groan later.

Question #4: Is the FAFSA used only or is the CSS Profile also used?

  • The FAFSA (“the Free Application for Federal Student Aid”) is the form to complete to be considered for financial aid.
  • The CSS Profile (the College Scholarship Service Profile”) is what some colleges additionally use in order to determine your daughter’s eligibility for receiving federal aid outside of the federal government. The CSS Profile digs into family assets in more detail.

Key Takeaway: Determine how much digging is worth to you.

Question #5: How are family financial hardships handled by the college/their financial aid office?

  • Emergencies happen. Changes happen. “Sugar Honey Iced Tea” (from the Madagascar movie) happens.
  • Find out now what the process is to access that help…when you don’t need it.

Key Takeaway: Processes to get help may not always be personable.

In Summary…

The 5 questions your daughter needs to ask her dream school are:

  1. How are outside Scholarships handled by Financial Aid?
  2. Does the college do “need blind” admissions?
  3. What percentage of a typical financial aid package is comprised of loans?
  4. Is the FAFSA used only or is the CSS Profile also used?
  5. How are family financial hardships handled by the college/their financial aid office?

Is the financial aid landscape ruffling your (and/or your daughter’s feathers) as she’s getting ready to “leave the nest” to go off to college?

If you’re having difficulty talking or not sure how to talk to your daughter about the financial aid landscape, then hop on a quick MicroSolutions Call with me now! It’s Free! …and it’ll be the best 10 minutes you’ll spend getting MicroSolutions that will lead to big change in your mother-daughter relationship.

©2023 Dr. Michelle Deering

This blog and its content are the copyrighted and owned material of Dr. Michelle Deering and Curative Connections® – ©Dr. Michelle Deering & ©Curative Connections LLC. Trademarked material is owned by Dr. Michelle Deering &/or Curative Connections LLC. No materials, in part or in whole, of this production may be copied and/or (re)distributed in any form or medium without the expressed written consent of the owner. | All rights reserved.


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