How to Start Thinking about Financial Aid


College Calm’s class of 2017 received aid offers of over 1 MILLION dollars in merit aid per year- over 4 million dollars over 4 years.

We want to give you important information regarding college financial aid. Too often families wait to talk about college costs and finances until the end of the process. We at College Calm think it is important to begin to talk about college finances in conjunction with building a college list that reflects your family values. Clear communication is important so when a student is looking at colleges so everyone has  an idea of what is feasible for your family. Below we talk about the changes in the FASFA, need based aid, merit aid and ways to cut college costs. At the bottom you will find a student checklist for July. We hope you are having a wonderful summer.

First Steps

Now is the time to start thinking about how you and your family will deal with financial aid. Start by reading Lynn O’ Shaughnessy’s article,” Your Crucial 1st Step.”  She recommends that you start by determining your family’s expected contribution. You can go to the financial aid website for any of the schools on your list and use the net price calculator. It is now mandatory for every college to have a calculator for families to estimate financial contributions. The information requested usually mirrors questions asked on the FASFA and CSS Profile. Sometimes the net price calculator can be hard to find on a school website so the easiest way to locate it is to google the school name and “net price calculator.” Here are a few examples: Santa Clara, CAL, Tulane and USC. Lynn’s website, the College Solution is a great resource for college financial information. In addition, most high schools sponsor a school or district financial aid night right after winter break (or earlier). It is a good idea to attend.

Changes in the FASFA

There is a new acronym in financial aid that is dominating the conversations- PRIOR, PRIOR YEAR or PPY. Beginning in the fall of 2016, the FAFSA now opens for families to complete in October, rather than  the following January. This means that the FASFA will be asking for data regarding your 2016 tax return, rather than estimates of your 2017 return. Students and families will be able to fill out the forms earlier which will result in colleges being able to send financial aid packages out earlier. We recommend that students research each school on their list and add to their spreadsheet the deadlines for the forms required. If a student plans to apply early, many schools will need the CSS Profile or FASFA or both by early action/decision date in October and November.

Merit Aid

This year there were some colleges that awarded significant scholarships to College Calm students. Some of the most generous were: Tulane, U of Arizona, Chapman, Gonzaga, U of Puget Sound, Fordham, Connecticut College, TCU, UC Boulder, U of San Diego and U of Denver.

For more schools that offer Merit aid, visit The New York Times useful and  interactive list of colleges that offer merit aid. You can sort the list by clicking on the column headings.

Western University Exchange (WUE)

If you are interested in out-of-state public institutions in the West, make sure to check out the Western University Exchange (WUE). WUE is a regional tuition reciprocity agreement between states that results in students paying a reduced out-of-state tuition. WUE students pay no more than 150% of the in-state tuition. Participating states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming. Montana and Nevada automatically offer WUE to CA residents, but for other states  students need to apply to become a WUE student. Some schools participate on a very limited basis (U of Oregon and U of Arizona) and other not at all (Boulder and Arizona State). To learn more visit

Questions to ask Financial Aid Offices

If you are visiting colleges and want to discuss financial aid options, the Huffington Post article, “ 8 Financial Aid Questions You Must Ask,” is a great place to start.