Making Sense of Financial Aid: Practical Advice and Insight

Posted: February 18, 2013

Sharon Krahe has straightforward advice for parents of high school students going through the process of visiting colleges and applying for financial aid: leave no stone unturned and don’t make assumptions.

Krahe, director of Gannon University’s Financial Aid Office, encourages parents and students to apply for financial aid, even if they don’t believe they will be eligible. “Many parents assume they won’t qualify based on their income, and so they don’t take the time to apply,” Krahe said. "Everyone should fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines both federal and state eligibility.”

Parents also have to be mindful of application deadlines for the FAFSA, because they can vary by state and by the type of institution the student plans on attending. Gannon University strongly recommends that parents submit the FAFSA by March 15, so as to ensure adequate time for processing.

Financial aid is available from several primary sources: federal sources; state sources; private sources such as foundations, corporations, and financial institutions; and from the college or university the student plans to attend. Gannon University, for example, offers many types of scholarships, grants, and awards.

In addition, financial aid generally takes one of two forms: gift aid and self help, Krahe noted.

Gift aid includes scholarships, grants, and awards which do not have to be repaid and which are typically based on merit or need. Merit awards may be based on the student’s academic record, athletic skills, leadership qualities, program of study, etc. Need-based awards are determined by a formula such as cost minus EFC (Expected Family Contribution), minus other aid. Students who apply for financial aid at Gannon are automatically considered for Gannon’s need-based grants

Self help includes loans that the student/borrower must repay, and work study, which requires a work commitment of the student.

In her meetings with parents and students, Krahe addresses several of the common myths with financial aid and the application process:

  • In the case of parents who are divorced, many mistakenly believe that the parent who claims the student on their income tax return must complete the FAFSA. However, the FAFSA should be completed by the parent with whom the student resides.
  • Many parents also mistakenly believe that if neither claims the student as a dependent on their taxes, the student will be considered independent. Rather, dependency is determined by the FAFSA form, Krahe explained.
  • Many parents, families, and students assume they can’t afford college. “In most cases, a college education is much more affordable than people think,” Krahe said. “I try to emphasize that college is usually within their means. Again, it’s worthwhile to go through the process of applying, and not let an assumption deter them.” Krahe also advises parents and students to look beyond an institution’s stated tuition cost, because various forms of aid can lower the cost considerably.
  • Parents shouldn’t be intimidated by the application process. Many assume the process is difficult, time consuming, and complicated. “Over time, the process has gotten much easier,” she said, “and that’s why we encourage everyone to make an effort to apply.”

Gannon University will host two more informational financial aid workshops during the current academic year: 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and 10 a.m. Saturday, April 6. They will be held in room 1200 of Gannon’s Palumbo Center, 824 Peach St., and are free and open to the public.

In addition, Krahe and Gannon University’s other financial aid officers periodically offer informational workshops at area high schools.

Questions? Gannon’s Financial Aid Office has the answers. Contact the office at 814-871-7337 or 1-800-426-6668.