College By The Numbers: Understanding Financial Aid

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For most kids balancing lacrosse and education is a familiar challenge. Once they get to the college level, they need to learn how to manage the sport with their education and with finances. Something you may be working through now.

Each year, college lacrosse coaches will fill hundreds of roster spots with scholarship athletes. But what about the rest? A vast majority of these athletes will fill NCAA Div. 3 spots or the ever growing MCLA roster spots. These families are stuck navigating the FAFSA, CSS Profile and Direct Loans on their own. I want to help break down the Financial Aid process for those families who find themselves in this situation. First, let us talk about picking that school. Whether a student is recruited or not, I want them to know it’s not all about the sport – after all they are STUDENT-athletes. But there is more to the traditional college experience than a text book and a lacrosse stick. They will be spending a huge majority of their time on campus – so the social scene needs to be right, the feel of the campus, the food, layout of the buildings, even the study lounges should be judged. The next four years (or more) will revolve around their school’s campus as they prepare themselves for what comes next.

With prices ranging from $10,000* for some state schools and up to $60,000** for some private colleges comparing prices can be quite tricky. There are some families who can foot the bill ‘out-of-pocket’ but most will hear the words ‘Financial Aid Package’ quite often during the spring of their senior year as they narrow their college search. What is it and how do you get it? The financial aid package is an itemized portfolio of need based money, grants/merit based scholarships, and loans – a family can pick and choose the pieces of the package that they want or don’t want. The price on the package is an estimated comprehensive cost to attend the school for a year and it includes: tuition, books, travel, room & board, and fees. Every student is encouraged to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA – after all … its free). The family will use their most recent Federal Tax information to fill it out and will list the schools they are applying to directly on the form. The easiest way to think about this process is finding your spot on a standardized financial spectrum – aka EFC numbers. An EFC is an Estimated Family Contribution number or what the federal government deems as the amount a family should be able to pay per year. I’ve seen EFCs range from $0 to over $100,000 – this will determine the type and amount of direct loans*** as well as need based federal grants that the student receives. All of this information is sent to each of the schools listed on the FAFSA and then they are left to create the package by adding in any scholarships and additional need based money from the school.

Very few colleges are not tuition driven – meaning they operate year to year on the tuition dollars from the previous years. So there is a delicate balance that every school plays when trying to get students to commit to their school. Financial aid can easily be confused as an expense to the college, however, it is best to think of it as income that the school cannot collect. The more money/discount they give out the less they have in the school. BUT – the smaller the packages they offer the fewer commits they will have. This can be good and bad for the family but it means that you should be comfortable discussing price and value with your admissions/financial aid counselors. It also means that you can ask for more money. Unfortunately, for D3/MCLA students-athletes … the sport can’t help you … in fact, the financial aid office cannot even know the student is an athlete. However, they do want to know things like the number of children in the family and if they are in school, if the school is the students top choice or not, and whether or not you have visited campus. The school might have a few thousand dollars that they can throw at a family to help sway their decision but they don’t want to offer money to a family who is ‘gaming the system’ and decides on a different school if that money could’ve helped a different family commit. All the money they offer is claimed until a family declines – so you are doing the schools and other families a favor by making a decision earlier. To help with this ‘gaming,’ every school has some form of a rating system that they will use to try and judge likelihood of a student enrolling – things like number of schools applied to, number of campus visits, time of application, and notes from the counselors will play into how a student is rated. At these schools with no sports scholarships your best friends are going to be the admissions counselors, the coaches are great resources as well but you have to remember that the financial aid office and your counselors work together very closely throughout your matriculation process.

College is an investment – emotionally, educationally, socially, and financially. Being educated and well prepared is the best way to make sure that the matriculation process is smooth. So whether you’re looking at playing NCAA or MCLA lacrosse – you will not be receiving a full scholarship – so make sure you file your FAFSA and seek out any private scholarship opportunities available. Ask questions and keep communication up during your decision processes to make sure balancing the financial part of playing at the next level doesn’t disrupt the academic or athletic components. Thank you all for taking the time to read this article if you have any question please feel free to contact Carl Starkey through info@connectlax.com.

*$10,000 is an estimated number of cost of tuition for a commuting student attending a state school
**$60,000 is an estimated comprehensive cost for a residential student attending a private college
***Direct Loans are optional federal loans in the student’s name and can be federally subsidized (Fed. Gov. pays the interest while student is full time) or Unsubsidized

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