4 Financial Aid Tips for College Savings Month

September is College Savings Month and The Bell teamed up with Admissions and Student Financial Services to bring some tips on navigating the affordability aspect of the college search and decision process. We know that price can be a huge deciding factor for families, and we are here to help.

First, let’s go over a quick refresher on some common financial aid terms.

  • Merit-based scholarships are scholarships you earn based on your academic achievement and performance. (There are also special scholarships for art, music and theater talent as well as competitive scholarships for honors programs.) 
  • FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the application for all types of federal, state and need-based aid from the College, and is something parents and students should complete together. 
  • Need-based financial aid is based on your FAFSA results and can consist of all types of grants, federal loans and work study. 
  • Your financial aid counselor is someone from Gordon’s Student Financial Services team who is here to help answer any questions during this process. 
  • Your financial aid award letter details all of the types of financial aid—merit and need-based—that you’ve been awarded. This arrives after you file the FAFSA.

Now that you know it’s FAFSA (not FASFA), let’s dig into some tips on navigating college financial aid. 

1. Don’t be deceived by the “sticker price”

The “sticker price” of a college is the up-front cost before factoring in any financial aid. It’s often shockingly high—but try to reserve judgment. Once you go through the financial aid process (more on that below), you’ll likely come out with a much lower net cost. 

At Gordon, we recently opted to start with a more affordable starting point. Through what’s called the Gordon Game Change, we reduced our tuition “sticker price” by 33 percent (nearly $13,000). And we’re still awarding generous scholarships to make the Gordon investment an affordable one for families.

2. Scope out scholarships

Although it doesn’t grow on trees, there is such a thing as free money—especially when it comes to college scholarships. As you search for and apply to colleges, it’s helpful to scope out what scholarships may be available to you. 

At Gordon, the easiest way to land a scholarship is to visit campus (you’ll earn a one-time $1,000 scholarship for doing so). We also have competitive scholarships for select students who are invited to be a part of our honors programs. Our merit-based scholarships, which are based on GPA, are automatically given to students upon acceptance to Gordon—and can add up to nearly $50,000 per year. From there, we also have a whole slew of special scholarships that are awarded to National Merit Scholars, musicians, visual and theatre artists, and students who are involved in Young Life. 

In addition, scholarships and grants from external sources can help reduce your college costs. From wacky and obscure to logical and practical, there are scholarships out there for a whole range of hobbies and talents, ethnicities and career ambitions.

3. File the FAFSA 

The FAFSA is the launch point for all need-based grants and loans. It opens on October 1 every year. There’s a lot to know about the FAFSA:

  • Even before you file the FAFSA, you can get a head-start on accessing Federal Student Aid’s online resources. The first thing you can do is set up your FSA ID, which is essentially a username and password that you’ll use to sign your FAFSA and apply for loans. Remember—students and parents, you’ll each need your own ID! While you’re on the Federal Student Aid site, poke around for additional helpful resources and information. 
  • Federal Stafford Loans, which you can qualify for through the FAFSA, come in two types: subsidized (based on financial need) and unsubsidized (for students who don’t meet the financial need benchmark). At Gordon, we want to make sure you’re not taking on unmanageable debt—but it’s also helpful to know that Gordon students finish with less debt than students at comparable schools, and far exceed national trends in terms of managing it well. Gordon is also among Payscale’s Best Colleges in Massachusetts by Salary Potential. And 93% of Gordon alumni are employed or in grad school within a year of graduation.
  • Students and parents should fill this out together since it is based on both student and parents’ tax information. Be sure to prepare documents like social security numbers, driver’s license, federal tax returns and W-2 forms ahead of time to make things easier. Remember to enter Gordon’s school code (002153) on the FAFSA.
  • If any circumstances arise that change your financial picture, reach out to Student Financial Services. Some families may encounter significant medical emergencies or job changes after they’ve filed the FAFSA and received their financial aid award letter.

4. Get creative

While your financial aid package may cover a significant portion of your college costs, students always get creative in coming up with ways to bridge the gap. It may be time to trim lattes from your budget, but it’s also worth thinking outside that box. For example, did you know that Gordon has a church-match program? This is a great way for churches to invest in their youth by donating directly to a student’s education. 

In addition, more than half of our students carry an on-campus job while they’re here! There’s literally something for everyone—from jobs in the Library to the Admissions Office to Resident Life and La Vida. And jobs aren’t just for students who receive work-study as part of their financial aid package; any student can work at Gordon. Plus, our Student Employment Office helps connect students with jobs off campus. 

We also encourage students to take advantage of their summer breaks. These are great windows of time to take advantage of discounted courses, get a job or complete an internship. By accelerating your course schedule you can potentially graduate early or get a jump start on a master’s degree. And Gordon can connect you with real-world, professional opportunities that prepare you for successful employment after graduation.