When it comes to need-based financial aid, things can change. Every year when you apply for financial aid, your financial need is reevaluated, and there can be changes to how much aid you’re eligible for, and what type of aid you qualify for. While the deadline for applying for next year is still a ways off (May 2, everybody!), it doesn’t hurt to start looking forward to next year. So, then, what can change aid, and what are some ways to prepare for it?
1. The “basics”
At its root, financial aid is awarded-based on four factors: family income, family assets, the number of people in the family, and the number of those family members in undergraduate college. Your family’s expected contribution is determined by these four factors. If there’s a change to any of those four major factors from one year to the next, you’ll likely see a change to your aid package as a result. Did you or your parents/guardians have more income, or come into some additional cash, investments, or other assets? Chances are, your need-based aid could change.
2. Siblings in college
If you aren’t the only child in your family who is attending college, your financial aid package is adjusted in a big way to reflect. Paying for two students to attend college obviously has a much bigger impact on your family’s finances, but what happens when one of those siblings finishes school? In most cases, a reduction in the number of students enrolled in college will result in a reduction to your need-based financial aid. Additionally, if your sibling finishes undergraduate college and moves on to graduate studies, they also won’t be counted in the number of college students that your family is paying for. Since graduate students are considered independent for federal financial aid purposes, they are not considered. So, if your sibling is going to be finishing undergraduate college in May, be prepared for a drop in your aid package. In the same vein, if your younger sibling will be graduating high school and moving on to college, your aid may increase!
3. Financial changes
There is a wide variety of things that can change your family’s financial situation from year to year, and your financial aid package takes many of those factors into account. If your parent/guardian had a raise at work and subsequently made more than last year, their increased income will lead to an increase to your family’s expected contribution for the year. Another factor that can come into play is withdrawing from a retirement account. While we won’t consider any money that your parents/guardians have in a retirement account, we will consider any money that they take out of it, as it contributes to their overall income for the year. The good news here is that you’ll have an idea of the difference by the end of December. Your parents/guardians will know by then how much they’ve made in 2015, and how it compares to their 2014 income. Have a conversation with them, or show them this blog; that way, you’ll both have it in mind that your aid could be different because of changing finances.
So, your aid might be changing. What can you do to prepare for that, though? Even if you know that an increase in income or a graduating sibling is going to affect things, you still won’t receive your package for next year until the summer. But even without the hard numbers in front of you, there are some steps you can take to make sure that you’re well equipped to handle any changes that may happen. Maybe ask your supervisor at work, whether on campus or back home, if you can increase your hours. Especially with winter break coming up, you might have the opportunity to work a lot of hours and use your paychecks to offset your family’s costs this year, or throw it in the bank to be put toward next year. If you or your parents/guardians come into an unexpected or significant amount of cash or other assets, make sure you’re setting some of it aside to be used for school expenses. Your aid package will take all income and assets into consideration, so try not to overspend just because you can. Most importantly, though, keep in mind that your aid can and often will change to account for differences in your family’s situation. With that in your and your parents’/guardians’ minds, you’ll be much better equipped moving forward, and any changes to your aid can be met head on.
At the end of the day, there’s no way to say for sure what your aid package for next year will be until you’ve submitted all of your application materials and received your package over the summer. But, with a little foresight and planning, you and your family can ensure that you’re ready if a change occurs. Keep us in mind, and let us know if you have questions or concerns looking forward to next year. We might not have hard numbers yet, but we definitely have advice and information to help you plan ahead.