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The Top 4 Financial Aid Questions Every Student Should Ask


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Financial Aid can be a huge factor in your college decision making process. Uprooted Academy is here for you and has cultivated a multipart series to support you in getting the most amount of aid possible. This first part of the series will walk you through questions to ask when learning more about the financial aid available to you. Let’s get started!


Question #1: What is my Student Aid Index (SAI)?


No matter how much money your family has, it is important that you complete the FAFSA to determine your Student Aid Index (SAI). Beginning with the 2024-2025 FAFSA, the Student Aid Index (SAI) will replace the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The Student Aid Index (SAI) is a number that determines each student’s eligibility for certain types of federal student aid. This number is calculated with the SAI formula, which uses the information that students provide on the FAFSA form.


The formula to calculate your SAI is established by law and is similar to the previous EFC formula. For dependent students:


SAI = Parents’ Contribution + Student’s Contribution from Income + Student’s Contribution from Assets


However, unlike the EFC, the SAI formula does not consider the number of family members attending college. It also allows for a minimum SAI of -$1,500, and implements separate eligibility determination criteria for federal Pell Grants. For example, students with an adjusted gross income (AGI) below specified levels can automatically qualify for a maximum Pell Grant.


You can reference the 2024-25 DRAFT Pell Eligibility and SAI Guide here and the 2024-25 DRAFT SAI Guide Supplement: Eligibility for Max/Min Pell Grant Resource here.


Question #2: What is the Cost of Attendance (COA)?


Your COA is exactly what it stands for: it determines the amount of money it costs to attend a particular school. This includes tuition & fees; food & housing; books, course materials, supplies, and equipment; transportation; and miscellaneous personal expenses. Your school will calculate this number for you.


Question #3: What is my Financial Need?


Your college will determine your financial need by using the following formula:


Cost of Attendance (COA) − Student Aid Index (SAI) = Financial Need


Depending on the number, your financial need can open the doors for you to receive need-based aid. Need-based aid is financial aid that you can receive if you have demonstrated financial need and meet other eligibility criteria. The aid that you receive cannot exceed the number of your financial need. Schools can cover a range from 0-100%. There are even some schools that cover 100% of your financial need. You can check out this list here!


It is important to remember that even if a school guarantees coverage of 100% of your financial need, you will likely receive an award package combined of scholarships, grants, loans, and work study opportunities. You will have to pay back any loans that you take out. Whatever is not covered in your financial aid package is referred to as “unmet need,” and you will be responsible for determining how to fill in that gap.


Question #4: How should I plan for the rising cost of tuition?


College does not cost what it used to cost. In fact, after adjusting for inflation, the price of attending a private nonprofit four-year college full time has risen 180% in the 30 years between 1992-1993 and 2022-2023. Though the pandemic inspired a 7% drop in the price of attending college between 2019-2020 and 2022-2023, the cost of attending a four-year university is still incredibly high. The College Board reports that students are graduating with an average debt of $29,100.


These rising costs can be frustrating so it is important to plan ahead as much as possible. You can get a good idea of how much you may pay by using a Net Price Calculator. In addition to filling out the FAFSA to determine how much aid you will receive, we recommend researching and applying for scholarships. Scholarships are financial awards given to students based on a set of criteria required by the scholarship committee. This money does not need to be paid back, so apply to as many as possible!


You can also begin to save money by taking advantage of your free time, if available, to work for a part-time or summer job. These savings can go towards college visits, application fees, books, supplies, tuition, or anything else you may need in the college process.


We hope that Uprooted Academy has provided some helpful strategies for you to approach your financial aid journey. We wish you the best of luck as you engage in this process! In A Parent's Guide to Paying For College: Key Questions Answered, we discuss the difference between loan types!


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