January Marks the Height of Financial Aid Season; BigFuture™ by the College Board Guides Families Through the Aid Application Process

NEW YORK — January marked the start of not only a new year, but also the height of the 2012–2013 student financial aid season. For families working to manage the cost of college, financial aid can play a critical role. Last year, the average student received a little more than $13,200 to help pay for college. About two-thirds of undergraduate students receive grant aid.

BigFuture™ (bigfuture.org), a free college planning resource offered by the College Board, helps families learn how to apply for financial aid, research cost and stay on track throughout the process. The site also offers a free webinar series for students and parents.

“Last year, more than $185 billion in financial aid was distributed to undergraduate students in the form of grants, work-study, federal loans and tax credits,” said James Montoya, vice president for relationship development at the College Board and former dean of admissions and financial aid at Stanford University. “You don’t know if you’ll qualify unless you apply.”

The financial aid process, which is separate and distinct from the college application process, can differ from college to college. BigFuture provides information on deadlines and gives step-by-step guidance on the process, including a financial aid checklisthow to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the  CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® forms; a financial aid glossary; and the right questions to ask financial aid officers.

“It’s important to understand the true cost of attendance and the difference between the sticker price and the net price — what you’ll pay after grant aid is considered,” Montoya said. “Don’t rule out a college because of its sticker price alone. Students sometimes find that colleges with a higher sticker price may actually offer them a lower net price.”

By clicking on the “Paying” tab on the profile pages of nearly 4,000 colleges in the College Search section of BigFuture, students can view detailed information about each school’s cost. BigFuture allows students to compare schools by criteria such as how many students apply for and receive aid; what percentage of students have their full need met; and average loans and average indebtedness at graduation. Students can also get a personalized net price estimate from more than 300 colleges by using the College Board’s Net Price Calculator, or link to net price calculators for all colleges through each school’s profile page in the College Search section.

Financial aid comes from many sources. Federal government grants, loans and other aid make up the biggest share at 73 percent, followed by college grants and scholarships at 18 percent, state government grants and scholarships at 5 percent, and private and employer grants and scholarships at 4 percent. BigFuture explains the basics of scholarships and grants, features a  scholarship search tool, and teaches families how to spot scholarship and financial aid scams. BigFuture also provides best practices for borrowing, including tips for taking out loans and calculators to compare loans and estimate repayment for students and parents who borrow.

For parents of younger children, BigFuture also breaks down various college savings options and provides a college savings calculator.

“Perhaps the most important advice I could give families is to emphasize that college remains a great investment,” said Montoya. “College graduates are likely to earn $22,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma. Those with only a high school diploma are about twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a college degree.”

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