By Kevin Towns,
Director of Financial Aid, North Central College
Schools and colleges across the country—including here at North Central College—are still in “back to school” mode, so this may seem like an odd time to be thinking about next school year. But it’s not, especially if you are a high school student or the parent of a high school student who is contemplating college for next fall. And that’s because of two important words: Financial. Aid.
In Illinois, the preferred deadline to complete the FAFSA—which stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—for the 2023-2024 academic year is December 1, 2022. Yes, as in this December. If you don’t fill out the FAFSA by December 1, it doesn’t mean that all is lost. However, federal financial aid, which can come in the form of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study opportunities, is awarded until the funds are depleted. That means the sooner you get your application in, the better your chances of receiving the full amount of financial assistance for which you are eligible.
Completing the FAFSA can seem daunting, especially if you are a student or a parent who is going through the process for the first time. Not to mention that paying for college can feel overwhelming and even out of reach for far too many students and their families. But it doesn’t have to be.
Over my 15 years working in financial aid here at North Central and at other institutions including Johns Hopkins and Ohio State University, I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of students and their families, helping them navigate what can feel like a complex and emotionally fraught process of maximizing college affordability.
At North Central, we’re committed to making sure that cost is never a barrier to earning a college degree. That’s why I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few pieces of advice if you, or someone you know, is embarking on the process of paying for college in the year ahead.
Prior to the first year of college, it’s always recommended to file the FAFSA. It’s a FREE application that could open doors to financial support that you did not know existed. For more information about the FAFSA, go to studentaid.gov.
Utilize your resources. Talk to a college admission counselor or contact the financial aid office at the colleges you are considering. They have the answers to your questions and can help you navigate the process. You are not alone!
Pay attention to a college’s “net” price (what families can expect to pay to attend) versus the “sticker” price (the published cost to attend). There can be a significant difference between the two prices.
It’s never too early to start applying for scholarships. There is often money left on the table. Start by talking to your high school guidance counselor or visit fastweb.com to learn more about scholarship opportunities.
When it comes to financial aid, the devil is often in the details, so carefully keep track of deadlines and requests for more information.
The bottom line is that a college degree is an investment in the future, and financial aid professionals such as myself and my colleagues here at North Central—and at institutions across the country—are here to help you maximize that investment.
If you’d like to learn more about financial aid opportunities at North Central College, including the various types of aid that are available, visit northcentralcollege.edu/tuition-aid.