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BW Expert: Strategies for college admission and financial aid success in an unusual year

As families grapple with delays in financial aid offers due to holdups with the government's revamped FAFSA, BW Vice President for Enrollment Management Scott A. Schulz, Ph.D., offers advice for successfully navigating the admission and financial aid process.

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Scott A. Schulz

Navigating the college admission process can be a daunting task. Compounding the journey this year are delays in financial aid offers from universities due to the federal government's changes to the FAFSA (the form required for students to receive federal and state grants and loans). Although students and families may experience a shorter decision-making timeline this year, with careful planning, proactive communication and resourcefulness, students can successfully overcome these challenges and make informed decisions about their higher education.

Start early

One of the key strategies is to start the college application process early, which allows students to have a clearer understanding of admission requirements and deadlines. Gather all the necessary documentation, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation and standardized test scores (when required), well ahead of time. This proactive approach minimizes the risk of missing application deadlines and gives students a head start in the overall college admission process.

Students should also be diligent in the pursuit of financial aid information. Many universities, including Baldwin Wallace University, provide details about the financial aid application process on their websites, a process that typically starts with filing the FAFSA now available online at studentaid.gov. Students should thoroughly research the financial aid requirements of each university they are interested in and ensure that they have an understanding of the documents and forms needed for the aid application.

We recently updated BW's online net price calculator tool to reflect the new FAFSA formula, offering another way for families to estimate their out-of-pocket costs for attendance in advance. Merit scholarship and special awards are on the certificates included in admit packets, so that level of financial support is already confirmed and guaranteed.

Communication is key

Communication is another crucial consideration this year. Students should maintain open and regular dialogue with the universities they have applied to; their admission counselor is often the key contact. Clear and polite communication can yield valuable information about the timeline for processing aid applications and any additional steps they may need to take.

Students should explore alternative funding options while waiting for official financial aid offers. Research and apply for external scholarships to secure additional financial support. Utilize online scholarship search tools (while maintaining a keen eye to avoid scammers!), work with high school guidance counselors to identify opportunities and engage community organizations and local businesses that offer scholarships based on academic achievement, extracurricular involvement or other criteria.

Learn all you can

While awaiting financial aid offers, students can also take advantage of financial literacy resources. Understanding the cost of attendance, types of aid, budgeting and financial planning are crucial skills for the long run. Institutions, including BW, often provide such tools on their websites. Online courses, workshops, or consultations with financial advisors can also provide valuable insights into managing finances during college.

Once aid offers do roll out, important changes in the government's formula this year are expected. This includes exchanging the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) for a Student Aid Index (SAI), removing the simultaneous enrollment of multiple siblings as a consideration for need and adding the value of a small business or farm when considering need. Changes may benefit some families while disadvantaging others relative to the old formula. Universities have no control over the formula. Our goal is to make sure each student receives every dollar for which they are eligible.

Empowered for success

Navigating the college admission process, despite delays in receiving financial aid offers and changes to the aid formula, requires a combination of proactive planning, effective communication and resourcefulness. Starting the application process early, staying informed about financial aid requirements, communicating with university financial aid offices, exploring alternative funding options, enhancing financial literacy and, most of all, practicing patience are key strategies to empower and position students for a successful college search and selection experience.

The original version of this column appeared on cleveland.com and in all SUN Newspapers.

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