• Vrutika Soneji

Financial Aid at UNC-Chapel Hill

Financial aid plays a key role in paying for college, but how do you know what kind is right for you? In a recent webinar hosted by BeyondDreams and FLI Raleigh, Sheryca Crossland, a financial aid officer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented information about the cost of attendance and financial aid. Some of the tips may be specific to UNC-Chapel Hill, but many can be applied to the aid process in general. The complete webinar is on the BeyondDreams YouTube channel, but here are a few words of advice!

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

To begin the financial aid process, apply for the FAFSA. This application is to complete yearly for a need-based aid or if you wish to borrow federal loans. However, you do not need to complete the FAFSA if you do not want to be considered for financial aid.

The online application can be completed on your phone, but it is advised to be completed on a computer for a smoother experience. The FAFSA opens every academic year on October 1st, and the UNC priority deadline is March 1st. You must use your prior-prior tax year to complete (to complete the 2021 FAFSA, you will be using your parent’s 2019 tax information). As mentioned in the name, this is free for all applicants!

College Scholarship Service (CSS Profile)

Another application is the CSS Profile, which determines eligibility for need-based aid and is institutional. It is not required by all schools and opens every academic year on October 1st. The UNC priority deadline is March 1st, although you only need to complete the first year by this deadline. Just like the FAFSA, you must use your prior-prior tax year to complete (to complete the 2021 FAFSA, you will be using your 2019 tax information)

A significant difference is that there is a fee ($25 to submit with an additional $16 per school) to submit the profile. However, there are fee waivers available for people who have trouble paying, meaning that you would not have to pay for the CSS Profile.

2020-2021 Cost of Attendance

At UNC-Chapel Hill, the attendance costs are based on averages. The chart above is used as a guide for the maximum financial aid offer. However, this is not what your actual bill is from the university. Rather, it is a breakdown to give you an idea of what might be included for your direct charges.

The costs are broken down to North Carolina and out-of-state residents. The first three items on the chart are direct costs, meaning that once you are admitted, you sign up for your classes, housing, and meal plan. On the other hand, indirect costs are charges that you might not see on your bill. You will be required to pay for loan fees only if you plan to use student loans.

Determining Financial Aid

Financial aid is determined based on information found on the FAFSA. Aid is calculated with the equation above.

Need-Based Financial Aid

Need-based financial aid is a great way to pay for college and includes grants, which arefree money that does not have to be paid back. One type is the Pell Grant, which is a federal subsidy that is derived from information on the FAFSA. The other type is a university grant, which is based on information received from the CSS Profile.

Loans are an alternate financial aid based on need. However, the difference between loans and grants is that loans accrue interest, meaning they grow while you are in school. One option is the subsidized loan, which is federally funded. The current interest rate is at 2.75% as of the 2020-2021 school year, and the interest rate changes every July 1. Another choice is the UNC loan, which is institutional. The interest rate for sixmonths after graduation is fixed at 5%, and the amount must be paid back once you leave the university.

Work-study programs are another great option for students to work, earn money, and gain experience while they are in school. UNC students are paid bi-weekly once they complete their hours. In this academic year of 2020-2021, students can receive a maximum of $3,000 through the year by working a minimum of 10-12 hours. However, if their program of study allows, students can work up to 20 hours.

Need-based financial aid also includes outside scholarships. These can be from a job, community, business, church, etc. If you receive an outside scholarship of any amount, make sure to notify your college’s office, as they will gladly add it to your financial aid award letter. An outside scholarship solely for UNC students is the Carolina Covenant, although other institutions may have something similar. This is a debt-free award, meaning there is no student loan and no separate application to be considered for it. They will verify application information based on Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and asset criteria. It also includes components of social programming, academic support, and mentorship.

Non-Need-Based Financial Aid

Loans can also be non-need-based aid. The first option is a federal unsubsidized student loan that is offered to students. Just like the need-based financial aid loans, the current interest rate is 2.75% and changes every July 1st.

The next option is the parent plus loan and is based on the information from the FAFSA. Parents are required to complete an application to prove that they are in good credit, and they are responsible for paying the loan back. After the second disbursement, parents have the option of making payments on that parent loan or postponing payment until the student graduates college.

Private loans are available at UNC as well. It is common for people to get these loans from their banks. There is no list for this type, and it is up to you to choose which private loan is best. Remember that this is different from federal loans, as it has different rates and terms.

If you do not pay them back, it could damage your credit, so be careful with these types of loans!

Students can also use scholarships, which are based on achievement at the time of admission and usually have no separate application. There are two main scholarships at Chapel Hill with separate applications: The Robertson Scholars Program and the Morehead Cain Scholarship. Ensure that you include all the information that is needed and adhere to deadlines when applying for scholarships.

Excel@Carolina is another opportunity specific to UNC-Chapel Hill, geared towards matching you to opportunities that best fit your interests. You have the option to indicate interest on the Common Application when you apply to the university.

Net Price Calculator

As seen on most college websites, the net price calculator estimates your aid offer at your desired school and uses the same information used to complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile to approximate your cost. However, this service will only be as accurate as the information that you include, so be as specific as possible to get the closest estimate!


By March 1st, the FAFSA and CSS Profile both should be completed. After you are admitted, you can review your award offer or complete additional information such as verification. Decisions need to be made before May 1st, so use budgeting resources, estimate your bill, and borrow needs to help make admissions decisions effectively! Then you can accept loans and complete loan requirements (if you wish to borrow) before disbursement.

Things to Consider When Thinking About Colleges to Attend

When making admissions decisions, thinking through all aspects is key to making the right choice. Consider housing options, as UNC budgets that as part of your cost of attendance based on your double occupancy room. Additionally, not all students use meal plans, meaning you would not be charged for it. Keep unbilled expenses in mind, such as your travel, personal costs, textbooks, and more. Finally, ask yourself: Do I need to borrow money? Loans are a type of financial aid, so look at it as an investment in your future!

Special Circumstances

Financial aid offices understand that before or after students have been awarded financial aid, there could be special circumstances that have occurred in their life. Changes such as separation or divorce, job loss, death of a parent, or changes in finances can greatly affect your economic outlook.

Fortunately, once you have been admitted into the university and been awarded financial aid, students can reach out to the college’s office and let them know what the situation is and be reconsidered. The reconsideration process begins with completing the needs analysis form. Then, they will review the information and see if you will be eligible for additional financial aid. Although they may take up to several weeks, they will do their due diligence to let you know if you are eligible.

Final Tips

Feel free to use the university’s resources, such as their office to ask questions. You can reach them by email, or you can set up a phone or virtual appointment. Additionally, whenever you complete applications, make sure you have all your documents together so you do not lose information or lose your place. After you submit your information, the college may reach out to ask for additional information, so always check your email for any information. Finally, keep in mind that no two situations are the same and you should find what works best for you as far as ways to pay for your college education!


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