Whether you’re a junior visiting colleges or a senior comparing aid packages to make that final decision by May 1st, you need to be asking questions.


Asking questions early in the college selection process will assist you in ruling in or out a possible school for application.  With college being more expensive than ever and far outpacing inflation, the family’s ability to pay, and the college’s generosity must be considered. Don’t simply rule out private schools, as they often have a lower Cost of Attendance than the publics as detailed in my post Why Pay Sticker Price for College.

In addition to using the Net Price Calculator all colleges are required to have on their site, ask admissions or financial aid the following questions.

  • What is the current Cost of Attendance (this is not simply tuition + room/board…include fees, books, travel, etc)
  • What is the average indebtedness upon graduation
  • What percentage of demonstrated need is met
  • What automatic merit aid kicks in at specific ACT/SAT scores and/or GPA
  • Is a separate application needed for any merit aid opportunities
  • What are application deadlines for full scholarship consideration (often earlier than regular deadlines)
  • Does your school require The CSS Profile in addition to FAFSA


It would be the rare family who isn’t disappointed by the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) then the subsequent aid package as they make their final college decision.  To be sure you are comparing apples to apples, be certain you know the following for each school you are seriously considering.

  • Total Cost of Attendance: Tuition + Room/Board + Books + Fees + Travel and Other Personal Expenses
  • Grants: Grants and Scholarships are FREE money that does not need to be repaid
  • Loans: Money that must be repaid. Includes, but not limited to, Federal Student Loans (subsidized and unsubsidized) and Private Loans

Once that’s sorted out, determine the total amount financed for college that will need to be repaid upon graduation.  The average student indebtedness for a new graduate is approximately $29,000. How does your school compare? Take it a step further and determine what this monthly payment might look like.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions before making your final decision. Some to consider are:

  • Are these scholarships renewable or are they a one-time scholarship
  • What must I do to keep my scholarships (GPA)

Keep in mind if something in your family’s financial health has drastically changed since submitting The Profile and FAFSA, you may appeal to the financial aid department’s professional judgment.  You never know – it might just be worth asking.