We know you’re in the midst of receiving all the financial aid information and making decisions this year on what your school can provide for each of those applicants. We know that in preparing to make these award decisions for the coming school year, consistency and efficiency are the keys to successfully reviewing the student applicant folders.
These five steps will help you cover important areas about each family’s household and financial picture. You’ll then be well-prepared to make informed award decisions that align with the budget, policies, mission, and enrollment goals for your school. Utilizing financial aid management software will aid you every step of the way in your goal of funding in-need students.
Step 1: Know the Family Story
For returning students, this will be easier than with a new applicant, but with each student you will have the Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS) which provides parents with ample opportunities to add comments with their responses and a final section to type any additional information they want you to know.
Tip: Read the PFS and information detailed in the student folder. Note any comments and unique or unusual conditions shared by the family for you to be aware of while considering their request for aid.
The more you know about the family and the student the better you’ll be able to make accurate decisions of need for financial aid.
Step 2: Review Income
Income can come from many sources, including taxable and non-taxable earnings. W2 wages are the most common; however, a parent can operate a business or be a shareholder, own rental real estate, work as an independent contractor or receive social security benefits. Compare what the parent reported against their federal tax forms, such as 1040 and W2s.
Tip: Make sure to ascertain if all the known nontaxable income is reported.
Encourage parents to talk with you openly and transparently about their income and underscore how your school maintains all financial aid data in private.
Step 3: Understand Net Worth
Net worth refers to the financial strength of the family. It factors in assets like home equity, bank accounts, and non-retirement investments like stocks, trusts, and 529 plans against their total debts. While income may be the most common means for parents to pay for tuition, a portion of net worth is an available resource to supplement their ability to pay for private education of their child. Make changes to assets and debts within TADS to recalculate the family contribution amount.
Tip: To see if the property value/equity is reported accurately enough use sites like www.zillow.com to help reference the market value for the property.
Step 4: Consider Special Circumstances
Unexpected situations can occur that may also lead to unintended expenses for a family. Take note of any special circumstances as you review the PFS. Be sure to note your actions based on these types of situations and decisions.
Tip: Remember, while income may be the most common means for parents to pay for tuition, a portion of net worth is an available resource to supplement their ability to pay for private education of their child.
Calculate final family contribution & decide award after completing Steps 1-4 and do a final recalculation of the family contribution so the amount reflects all the revisions you made to the student folder. What is the family’s financial need? Tuition (and fees, if applicable) minus the family contribution determines their financial need.
Tip: Be sure to note your actions based on these types of situations and decisions. Also make sure you ask if the student has tuition support from a grandparent or other relative. You also might ask if they anticipate a major change in the upcoming year financially.
We’ve prepared a full guide for you “5 Steps for a Successful Folder Review” and to use through your entire decision process. It’s filled with actionable insights and questions you can ask each step of the way to ensure consistency and efficiency through the financial aid award process.