• Vrutika Soneji

Top 10 Things to Know About Financial Aid at Wake Forest University

Financial aid may be a complicated world, but becoming familiar with the process will help you pay for college. In a recent webinar hosted by BeyondDreams and FLI Raleigh, Tom Benza, a financial aid officer at Wake Forest University (WFU), presented 10 top things that students must know about financial aid. Some of the tips may be specific to Wake Forest, but many can be applied to the aid process in general. The complete webinar is on the BeyondDreams YouTube channel, but here are some of the mentioned tips and tricks!

1. 100% Demonstrated Financial Need

Wake Forest is one of the few universities that commit to meeting 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need. They meet that need with a combination of grants, scholarships, federal work-study programs, and federal direct subsidized loans. As Wake Forest commits most of its resources to need-based grants and scholarships, merit-based aid is very competitive. Less than 3% of first-year students receive a merit-based scholarship.

2. Deadlines are Essential

Think of the financial aid and admissions applications as a parallel process. The FAFSA and CSS Profile become available every academic year on October 1. WFU’s priority filing deadlines are November 15 for early decision and January 1 for regular decision. It is okay if you do not meet these deadlines, as they can still accept applications. However, money is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so make sure you are completing your applications in a timely fashion. Be sure to check the financial aid homepages of the schools to see the application requirements and deadlines.

3. All Aid Applications Are Not the Same

All aid is not made the same. The first type of aid is federal aid which is applied through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); this application is required by all schools awarding federal aid. The next type is institutional aid, which includes the College Board’s CSS Profile; it is only required by some schools. Another type is state aid, which varies state by state. This includes the College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC), where you can access college and financial aid applications, as well as information on loans and college savings. The final type of aid is outside scholarships, which are usually specific to the organization. There are several different avenues, from employers and churches to civic rotary types of organizations. However, be wary of anything that requires you to pay a fee; those types are usually scholarship scams. If you are unsure if a scholarship donor is legitimate, feel free to email a financial aid office!

4. Cost of Attendance Should Not Be a Mystery

It is very important to know the cost before signing up to attend the school so you are prepared. Each financial aid homepage will have a breakdown of the cost of attendance. The cost of attendance is generally broken down into direct costs, which are billed through the institution. This includes tuition and fees, housing, and your meal plan. Meanwhile, related educational expenses are called indirect costs, which are books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses, and insurance. At Wake Forest, there is no in-state or out-of-state tuition breakdown. This means that wherever you are from, the cost of attendance at Wake Forest is $77,342. However, that is not necessarily the cost that students receiving need-based financial aid will be paying at Wake Forest.

5. The Expected Family Contribution

When you plug your income and asset information into the FAFSA and CSS Profile, it will tell you the Expected Family Contribution. The EFC is the amount of money a family can reasonably contribute. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily the amount the family will pay for college. Rather, it is the way colleges equally assess all students. Although the family contribution may be the same regardless of which college the student attends, the aid award can differ from college to college.

6. Definitions Are Important!

Need, also known as demonstrated need or financial need, is the difference between the Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Check out the Net Price Calculator on the school’s financial aid homepage to see what a financial aid package would look like for you.

7. Categories of Financial Aid

Although there are many types of financial aid, they can be categorized into three main types. Merit-based aid often comes from the institution but can also come from foundations, scholarship organizations, etc. These are generally based on academic achievement, special talents, or other unique traits. Meanwhile, need-based aid is calculated based on a methodology from the FAFSA/PROFILE data and is therefore very specific. The sources of this type of aid can be federal, state, or institutional. There are also athletic aids, which are meant for athletes attending the college.

8. Types of Financial Aid

  • Federal grants, such as the Pell Grant program, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), and the TEACH grant (for future teachers).

  • Federal Direct Student Loans, which can be subsidized where the interest is paid while you’re in school by the federal government. They can also be unsubsidized, which means the interest is ticking while you are in school.

  • Federal work-study programs, which are a great opportunity to work with a professor and possibly do a research project. You may see a work-study eligibility, like a maximum of $2000-$2500 at Wake Forest, depending on the student’s position.

  • Institutional grants and scholarships

  • External/outside scholarships

  • Private educational loans, however, we want to limit those loans as much as possible. We always look at our federal loan programs first before tapping into private educational loans.

9. Decoding the Aid Notification Letter

Once you are accepted to the school and you have completed your financial aid applications, each school is going to give a breakdown of their aid package. However, they all are probably going to look slightly different. Here’s how you determine what financial aid package is right for you.

First, compare Costs of Attendance (COA), the total amount of aid being offered this academic year, and the types of aids being offered. This includes understanding the breakdown of gift aid, grants, and scholarships that don’t need to be repaid, as well as self-help aid, like federal work-study eligibility or loans. Additionally, ask these questions when considering aid:

  • When do grants and scholarships get included in your package?

  • Are the grants and scholarships renewable? What are the terms and conditions for renewing? (maintain certain GPA, hours enrolled, course requisites, etc)

  • If the aid includes work-study, is the amount of work-study realistic?

  • Will aid change from year to year?

  • Will aid increase if COA increases?

  • If loans are being included in the package, what’s the interest rate? Are they subsidized or unsubsidized? When do I have to begin repaying?

10. Special Circumstances Matter

There can be various special circumstances that can affect your financial aid needs. This includes a change in income or employment, unreimbursed medical expenses, recent separation or divorce, death of a parent, or other unique family situations that are not evident from the FAFSA data. Families can explain those to our financial aid committee by submitting a letter to the main email account. Once the student explains their circumstances, the financial aid committee reviews the situation. The committee may ask for additional information and documentation, such as copies of bills, canceled checks, termination letters, etc. to prove your situation. However, once they reevaluate, you may have a chance to qualify for additional financial aid!

Being aware of how financial aid works and the different types of aid will greatly help you in the college application process. Hopefully, these financial aid tips will help you pay for college in a way that does not break the bank.


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