Common Financial Aid Misconceptions

There are several misconceptions surrounding financial aid.

It is sometimes believed that students should not apply for financial aid until they have already been accepted by, and have decided on, the college or university of their choice. This is a serious error that may have significant negative impact on the aid the student receives. While most federal student aid is unlimited (the Perkins Loan is an exception), institutional aid is not, and may have all been tentatively distributed before the student decides on a college. To maximize eligibility, the FAFSA should be submitted, using estimated income figures and a tentative list of colleges, as soon as the application becomes available, usually January 1.

Not enough aid is available to make college financially possible. While this is sometimes true for expensive colleges, financial aid will cover most or all of the cost at a community college or other low-cost school. This is even more true in states, such as New York, that have significant state financial aid.

The application process is too complicated. While the process can be complicated, the less income and assets a student and/or family has, the simpler it is to apply. Many high schools provide assistance.

Low high school grades will prevent a student from getting financial aid. This is only true for merit-based aid. For Need-based aid, by far the largest type, once a student is admitted to a college the high school grades are irrelevant.

Financial aid is only available to the most needy students. Merit-based aid is available to all. Many middle-class families do not know that they may qualify for some Need-based aid. The well-to-do can receive unsubsidized federal loans, which are available regardless of Need.