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Financial aid questions parents actually ask

Kat Swantak, Assistant Dean of Admission

The hard part is over! Your child was admitted to college. Now comes the “paying for it” part. We totally get it. Paying for college is a huge investment and one that should be taken with great care. There are all sorts of loans and grants and work study opportunities and a whole host of other kinds of financial aid. It’s hard to keep track of them all, let alone understand what each school’s financial aid award really means since they all look different.

Parents and families of admitted students ask a lot of questions about financial aid, as they should. It’s complicated, and I’d be skeptical if you told me that you didn’t find it confusing at least at some point in the whole process. There are the standard questions that families tend to ask, like these, and they’re good ones. I mean, we wouldn’t put it on our website if they weren’t, right?

But let’s go a little deeper. Parents, let’s get real for a moment.

There are a lot of questions families ask in the financial aid process that aren’t on a school’s FAQ page. So, I went to our financial planning office and asked them, “Okay, so lay it on me. What are the questions that families actually ask when they talk to you?” I asked them not to hold back. Hey, I’m sure some of these questions you have yourself!

I asked, and they answered. So, without tiptoeing around the standard “normal” financial aid questions people ask, let’s check out some of the real ones:

Some were pretty tame, but not always talked about out in the open as much:

Can my student live off campus to save money on room and board?

Juniata College is a residential campus. Unless your home residence is within 50 miles of campus, you are required to live on campus.  Some students choose to commute from home, and at times, it does save a little money.  However, Juniata calculates the cost of room & meal plan when determining need-based aid.  If a student decides to change from on-campus housing to commuter status, they may lose funding that was originally awarded to help offset the cost of living on campus.”

Should we take out a Parent Plus loan?

“This is a personal choice. It’s always good to compare the interest rate of the PLUS Loan (currently approximately 7% with a 4.25% origination fee) with that of other private alternative loans.  If you have an excellent credit score, you may find it more reasonable to borrow through one of the lenders on our private loan lender list.  Private lenders to not assess an origination fees and offer parent loans as well as student loans. Look for the paragraph with the heading Alternative Loans.”

What if we don’t want to take out federal loans?

“Please email the Financial Planning Office to formally decline your loan(s).”

Does my student have a get a job on campus?

“No, a student does not have to work on-campus, that is completely their choice to do so.”

Can my student work off campus?

“Absolutely! There are off-campus jobs within walking distance and more options for those students able to drive.”

But then, we got deeper into the nitty gritty.

My ex-husband and I are divorced and both remarried, who do we list on the FAFSA?

“In this instance you would list the custodial parent. This would be the parent who the student lives with the majority of the time. It is important to note that if the parent is remarried then the new spouse’s information will be included as well on the FAFSA.”

My husband lost his job/had major surgery/etc. last year, can you adjust our finances to better represent this reality

“Absolutely!  Our office is open to communication when extenuating circumstances cause a significant decrease to income. Documentation will be requested based on individual circumstances and financial aid recalculated based on the receipt of the requested documentation.”

Should I or my spouse retire?

“You should check with your personal professional financial consultant before making any major financial decisions, including retirement. Changing your income while your child is attending college can put extra stress on your family finances, so it is advised to make sure to talk with someone who knows your overall family financial situation, and retirement terms, to determine the best course of action for your family finances.”

Now, ladies and gentlemen, these are the ones that made me say, “FINALLY somebody said it.”

I would have been better off not saving any money. I’m being punished for being a planner, correct?

“No. Juniata gives the majority of their scholarship money in merit aid, which means we award most of our aid through the admission process, which is based on the applicant’s academic success as a student.  We take a holistic view of the student’s application and award our merit scholarships based on that determination. This process happens before we (the financial planning office) ever look at a family’s need from the FAFSA. The FAFSA does take into consideration a family’s assets, but you as a family are always better off to have saved for education than to have not saved.”

So, I have to pay more so the other kids can pay less?

“Financial aid is based on an individual basis, meaning merit aid, as well as need-based federal, state, and institutional aid, are based on a the student student’s academic performance, but also their family finances; therefore, you are paying the amount that the federal government’s FAFSA form determines you can afford as a family.”

I got more money from another school.

“Every school has different levels of funding. Some schools have larger endowments than others and can afford to award more money than their peer institutions. If you have a “better” financial award from a school whose costs are aligned with Juniata’s, reach out to the financial planning office or your admission counselor to discuss it.  Please keep in mind, we cannot “match” awards from other schools, since our institutional funding levels do not match. We strive to give you the best financial aid package we can give based on our funding levels.”

There you have it. I do want to say though, the questions above are relevant and should be asked, and they are answered without judgement. So, why not just put it out in the open? Who knows? This post could save you an uncomfortable conversation or two. Shout out to our counselors in the financial planning office for answering these questions. Have more questions that have gone unanswered so far? Don’t hesitate to contact our financial planning office at at financialplanning@juniata.edu or 814-641-314 2.

The next step? Your family becomes part of the Juniata family.

As always, it’s a great day to be an Eagle. Wings up!