Outside scholarships may cancel out financial aid given by your college

by Grace

Do not assume that an outside scholarship will reduce your out-of-pocket college expenses.  This cautionary note comes from SmartMoney‘s 10 Things Financial Aid Offices Won’t Say.

“Outside scholarships help us, not you.”

Sure, you’re proud of the five scholarships your high school senior won from community groups and a local church, but don’t be relieved just yet. Unless you weren’t counting on any financial aid at all, those scholarships might not make a dent in the total amount you’ll owe. Why? Federal guidelines mandate that outside scholarship money be considered a resource in meeting financial need. This means you can’t use the scholarship dollars toward your expected family contribution, and the college can reduce the amount of aid coming your way. “Many parents mistakenly think their cost will be diminished and then are disappointed to learn that it will actually be the grant from the school that is diminished, thus saving the college money and not the family,” says Parnell Hagerman, associate head at the Oldfields School in Glencoe, Md.

But applying for outside awards can help students if they re looking at a financial aid package that features more loans than grants. Ask your college if it can reduce the loans first, says Patty Hoban, aid director at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. In that case, a few scholarships could still save thousands of dollars in interest. Secondly, it can reduce work-study, which is need-based.

Always check with the individual school.  It can be confusing because colleges vary in exactly how they treat outside scholarships.

Most schools have favorable policies that first apply the outside scholarship to unmet need, and then reduce self-help (loans and work-study) before touching institutional grants.

Go to the FinAid article on Outside Scholarship Policies for more details.

CollegeConfidential discussions include parents sharing their stories about how financial aid packages were affected by outside scholarships:
Merit aid cancels out need-based aid
Outside awards and structure of aid package

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