Doing your homework
for Financial Aid 101
Lynn Nichelson has been in charge of financial aid at IWU for 41 years. (Photo by Marc Featherly)
Parents and students trying to navigate through the complex process of applying for
financial aid can understandably feel a little lost. Lynn Nichelson, who has been
at the helm of IWU’s Financial Aid Office for 41 years, offers tips to make the process
go a little smoother.
Look before you decide.
Don’t assume Illinois Wesleyan (or another private college) is out of reach. Oftentimes,
the aid package brings the cost of a private college down to a level comparable to
that of a state school.
Count all the costs.
When comparing IWU to other schools, look at all the costs, including extra fees,
books, transportation, and living expenses.
When applying for financial aid:
Beware of financial assistance companies.
• Observe the deadlines (they may be different at each school).
• Remember that filling out financial aid forms is a detail-oriented process. Read
the instructions first, then allow yourself enough time.
• Be accurate. “The error rate for applications is significant,” says Nichelson. Aid
could be lost or given to other applicants while the office is waiting for a clarification.
Nichelson warns: “Be wary for a letter in the mail from any company which promises
to help parents find money for college. A fee of $1,000 or more could be charged”
for information which is offered free through the University’s Financial Aid Office
and other sources, such as collegeboard.com. This Web site offers features such as
an expected family contribution (EFC) calculator, and the ability to research financing
opportunities through the Stafford Loan Program.
Know how to compare award notices.
• Ask questions.
• Look for hidden expenses.
• Understand the requirements for renewal as an upper class student.
• Know the average time it takes to complete a degree – if it takes five or six years,
the cost savings will be lost (and eligibility for aid programs may be exhausted as
Find the right fit.
Some things can’t be measured by money. How comfortable is the student with the college?
A good fit enhances academic performance.
About merit-based aid.
Remember to complete the financial aid application process as early as possible if
you anticipate a demonstrated need which would exceed the merit-based award originally
offered to you. During the past academic year, 407 entering freshmen who enrolled
in the fall were offered a merit-based award; 205 (50 percent) applied for more aid
based on need and received larger grants.
Most colleges offer loans as part of your aid package. A loan should be considered
as a wise investment. A college degree opens doors for lucrative employment opportunities
which otherwise would have been closed; consider the income potential over a lifetime
as compared to the debt incurred for your education. — Nancy Steele Brokaw ’71