A vast majority of students in the United States receive some sort of financial aid when paying for college. This aid can come in many different forms, from scholarships, both private and publicly funded, grants, federal aid, and private aid companies. Needless to say, students should be 100% certain of where their money is coming from and going to before signing off on anything.
Financial aid packages
There are many types of financial aid packages available to students and families. It is important to understand the merits of each one before deciding which is right for you. Students should keep in the back of their mind that private financial aid organizations are businesses. Those businesses have to look out for their own well-being as well as that of their customers. Not to sound cynical, but it is vital to check all the aspects of a deal before signing off on it. These same standards should apply to all forms of financial aid; simply put, READ THE FINE PRINT. Don’t just “accept” them like the terms and conditions on an iTunes update. This is your money, your life, and it matters what you sign.
Front-loaded financial aid package
Students sometimes find, after not reading the full contract they sign, that their aid plan does not extend further than their first year. Or, it gives a bulk of the funds at the beginning. This is known as a “front-loaded” financial aid plan, a widely-used financial aid method. If you are shocked when you return for your sophomore year to find your monetary well running dry, don’t blame the source of your aid, blame yourself for not reading everything attached to the document.
Front-loaded financial aid packages, while an unpleasant surprise for some, can be the end goal of others who prefer this approach to a more even-keeled monetary distribution. In fact, it seems that this kind of early payment is widely used. According to statistics from the last year available (2013), 75% of freshmen received grant aid, compared to 63% of sophomores, juniors, and seniors. That 12% drop-off is the difference between a front-loaded plan and a more balanced aid plan that doles out funds over four years.
Why pick the front-loaded package?
There are plenty of reasons why a student would prefer a front-loaded financial aid package over other kinds. Some students only have a temporary need for financial aid, perhaps due to a family situation or the specific kind of program they will be entering. This may seem odd, but everyone is different. It is important to not operate under the illusion that we fully understand the financial situations of others. For these people, the front-loaded plan is not only acceptable, it is ideal; they will not be liable in the future for excess funds that they don’t require for graduation.
While front-loaded financial aid is often seen as a negative, it can be a positive depending on your situation. The important thing, however, is to ensure that you know exactly what you’re signing up for before you put pen to paper and add your John Hancock to a clause that will trickle out halfway through your second semester. Know what you’re signing, look at all your options, and, again, read everything. Seriously, EVERYTHING.