Wednesday’s Parent: 4 strings attached to FREE financial aid

Strings attached to FREE financial aid. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Strings attached to FREE financial aid. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

College-bound families looking for help in paying for college are on the hunt for financial aid but even free money grants and scholarships can have strings attached like loans that must be paid back. Grants and scholarships can come from federal or state governments, colleges, and private outside scholarship sources. Students must be prepared to check out the terms of any awards as carefully as if they are student loans.

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid released every January 1 for the following school year. If your student is attending college for the 2015-2016 school year, now is the time to file FAFSA. Although income and other tax information is required, estimate now and go back to update after submitting tax returns. You may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that automatically fills in the numbers from the returns.

When the FAFSA is processed, the federal government applies certain complicated formulas to determine the student and his family’s need for financial aid and the programs they qualify for. The student and the colleges the student selects receive a numerical result called the Expected Family Contribution or EFC. Colleges use this figure and any other financial aid forms they require to calculate awards to admitted students from their own institutional funds. States and private outside scholarship sponsors have their own method of award calculations.

No matter the donor, there can be strings attached to financial aid gifts. Before accepting, students should discover if their awards have conditions and the penalties for failure to meet them. The punitive action may be minor or harsh like forfeiture of future aid or having to pay back financial aid money given.

Here are four string examples:

  1. Make the grade. Students must make Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) In order to continue receiving financial aid from many sources including federal and state programs. In other words, students have to make good enough grades. Each school has their own SAP policy so check the college’s website or call the financial aid office to find the minimum GPA (grade point average) that has to be maintained and how often the school will evaluate the student’s progress.
  2. Get enough credit. There is a big difference between college costs for part-time and full-time students and financial aid reflects this. When credits are lost from not completing a class or withdrawal, it could change the student’s attendance status and the eligibility for aid previously awarded.
  3. Keep moving forward. Repeating a class, changing a major, or transferring and losing credits can mess up the momentum toward successfully completing a degree or certificate in the time period that’s acceptable at the college. Financial aid doesn’t last forever. Time limits make college financial aid expire.
  4. Stay put. Some scholarships and grants are awarded based on a student’s interest in an activity or course of study. Dropping out could mean losing the award for no longer playing the tuba in the band, being the quarterback, majoring in physics, being an A-earning student, etc.

Financial aid goes to eligible students only so if student qualifications change, they may no longer be eligible to receive financial aid. Parents can discuss with their student the importance of understanding the strings attached, committing to following them, and dealing with the consequences if they break the strings.

Read Suzanne’s post: “We Won’t Qualify for Financial Aid” 

Read more about financial aid tools and how to make affordable college choices:
Wednesday’s Parent: Formula and tools to calculate college costs
5 financial resolutions the college-bound should make
Money influences college choices from the start


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

This month Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT on Wednesday, January 21. Our guest will be financial aid expert Jodi Okun. She is the founder of College Financial Aid Advisors, an Money Expert, host as @JodiOkun of #CollegeCash twitter chat, and the @Discover Student Loans Brand Ambassador. Jodi has helped thousand of families navigate the financial aid process so you don’t want to miss a chance to get her tips and ask questions.

Read Wednesday’s Parent Night on #CampusChat! for some simple instructions to join a Twitter chat.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

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