6 More Questions to Ask Your School's Financial Aid Office

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So you've exchanged names and handshakes with your financial aid officer.

The relationship-building isn't over yet.

As a student, whether you're pursuing your first or second degree, it's important to stay in touch with your financial aid officer. Keeping in contact with the financial aid office can lead to new scholarship and grant opportunities to help you better understand how to pay for school.

Here at CommonBond, we've outlined the 10 most important questions to ask your financial aid office after you've chosen which school to attend, whether you're bound for college or a postgraduate program. 

The following six questions will be better asked once you've stepped foot on campus and are planning for the semester ahead.

How your financial aid office can help you prepare for your future

You probably don't want to think about the next semester or school year before the upcoming fall semester has even started, but planning ahead can save you time and money. Meeting with a financial aid officer can help you understand increases in costs over the next term or changes to your awards, allowing you to plan early to minimize the impact any of these changes would have over the course of your education.

5. How much will the cost of attendance increase next year?

You might think it's a little too soon to be asking about the cost of attendance for next year, but it's important to know exactly what will be changing. When meeting with a financial aid officer, bring your current financial aid award letter so you can ask specifically what will change, item by item.

Some schools may provide one-time awards for first-year students that will no longer be applied at the start of the next year. Ask your financial aid advisor which awards are one-time deals and how you can supplement your aid for next year without them.

Even if you get to keep the same financial aid package next year, the cost of tuition and room-and-board are each likely to rise. According to research conducted by The College Board, the cost of tuition at public four-year colleges rose by 3.5% in 2016-2017.

6. How long is your program of study?

Even if you're enrolled in a four-year program of study, there are plenty of reasons as to why you might not graduate in four years. In fact, according to a study performed by Complete College America, just 19% to 36% of students graduate on-time from a four-year college. Transferring from and to different schools can set you back from your expected graduation date due to lost credits, as can changing majors or taking more courses and credits than needed.

To ensure you still have Federal student loans available to you in these situations, you need to be careful that you don't take all the loans you're offered immediately at the outset, as you could run the risk of maxing out your full borrowing potential — the maximum amount of money you're allowed to borrow from the federal government for each year of your education as well as the entire duration of your education. According to information collected by Complete College America, an extra year in a four-year college costs an additional $22,826.

7. What is the percentage of students who graduate with debt at this university, and what is their average debt?

Attending school can be expensive, even after you've exhausted your financial aid options. Loans aren't inherently a bad thing, especially when they aid you in attaining a degree, but you do want to have a plan in place for paying them off on-time.

It's important to know how many students are graduating from your school with debt and how much their average debt actually amounts to. These numbers will help you estimate the likelihood of yourself graduating with debt and, more importantly, how much debt you'll be responsible for paying back.

The answers to these questions not only contribute to planning your immediate postgraduate future, but also give you an idea of the type of jobs and level of income you'll need to pay off your debt.

For example, the average starting salary for a graduate with a bachelor's degree was just over $50,000 in 2015, according to the National Association for Colleges and Employers. The average debt of a student who graduated from a four-year public college in 2016 was $37,172. It's important to compare your anticipated salary to your expected post-graduation debt to determine how quickly you can pay down your debt — while also beginning your professional life.

8. Are scholarships renewable?

Not every school automatically renews the same scholarships you were awarded from one year to the next. Some scholarships may only be awarded for first-year or first-semester students. Others may require some effort on your behalf to remain in effect, such as enrolling in a certain number of classes or maintaining higher than a specified minimum GPA.

Your financial aid office can help you identify the particulars of each scholarship you've been awarded and let you know what's required to keep a scholarship in place as you proceed through your journey of higher education.

How your financial aid office can help you prepare for the unexpected?

Even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry, so it's helpful to know what avenues are available to you. Your school's financial aid officers are there to help you learn what options are accessible to you in a worst-case scenario.

9. What happens if your family's financial situation changes during the semester or school year?

No one has a crystal ball to see what the future holds and even the best of planners can be surprised by an unexpected turn of events. Major curveballs in your life can have a very real impact on your ability to afford your education, but knowing what to do if something were to happen can help you overcome a rough patch and bounce back with as little negative impact as possible.

Ask your financial aid officer about what you could do in a situation that drastically alters your ability to afford your tuition. Of course, your school will require documentation as to the nature of the change in your financial situation. One option that may make sense in this situation is a private lender, like CommonBond. Make sure you've spoken to your financial aid officer about private lenders in case you find yourself in a situation where you may need additional funds for school.

Being prepared means you'll know exactly how your school may increase the amount of financial aid you're awarded in the event unforeseen difficulties arise.

10. If you need to, how do you appeal your financial aid award?

Don't panic if you've received your award letter, and it's for less than you expected to be given. Most schools have an appeals process you can follow to ensure the information reviewed by the financial aid office was correct and not overlooked, lost or otherwise misconstrued.

You can also request an appeal if you think you should be eligible for more financial aid than you were initially awarded. Following the procedures laid out by a financial aid officer helps facilitate the process. Additional aid may be granted due to your specific circumstances, though in some situations, a school cannot award more aid than is initially approved.

Even if you think you have your entire financial situation under control, there's no good reason not to set up a meeting with your school's financial aid office. The financial aid staff is there to help you succeed by ensuring you can afford your education as comfortably as possible, and their advice can contribute to easing the burden of tuition that comes with achieving your hard-earned degree.

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