Financial Aid Interview with a Division One College

Learn how the financial aid process works at a Division One College recently interviewed a Division 1 Institution to discuss the financial aid process for student-athletes and how it relates to college coaches and the recruiting process.

Scholarship Blending and equivalency was basically designed to limit colleges from giving institutional aid to recruited athletes that probably didn’t deserve aid, correct?
Yes, unless an athlete receiving any athletic scholarship money meets 1 of 4 academic criteria that the NCAA has established, then any additional institutional aid awarded to a recruited athlete by the school counts towards the teams total allotted athletic scholarship money that the NCAA has established as a limit. Like your question states, this was designed by the NCAA to make sure schools didn’t give additional money to athletes after they ran out of scholarship money for the team, and it forces coaches to recruit more carefully and make sure they have allocated their money in the most useful manner.

Here is an example. A D1 girls soccer team is allowed 12 athletic scholarships that can be divided amongst many players and recruits. If the team has already allocated 11 scholarships to players on the team, the team has one scholarship remaining. The coach is free to divide that money up to a number of recruits if they so choose, however, if you are receiving any athletic aid from the team, any money the school gives you will count against the total scholarship limit (12) for the team unless you meet any of the academic criteria. If the scholarship limit is 12, but the school only offers 4 full scholarships for girls soccer, the institution can award money to recruits up to the equivalency of 12 scholarships. If a team is maxed out on athletic scholarships, it will be extremely difficult to get both athletic money from the coach and institutional money from the school, unless you qualify academically. As you will see in the next question, this isn’t often an issue.

** The academic criteria are
(1) 3.5 GPA
(2) SAT of 1200+ (before test was changed)
(3) ACT of 105+
(4) Top 10% of high school class

Is it realistic for an athlete that isn’t an exceptional student academically to expect any institutional aid money?
Not really or not in our case, that is why equivalency isn’t really an issue for us. If you meet one of the 4 academic criteria, any money the school gives you doesn’t count towards the team anyway. If you don’t meet any of the 4 academic criteria, then realistically you won’t be getting any aid because there are going to be other deserving students who have just as much need as you and have higher academic credentials. If you are an exceptional student with a high academic record, you can qualify for grants and merit aid, if you aren’t an exceptional student, the school cannot justify giving you money simply because you are a good athlete. So while equivalency is an issue, it’s not really an issue because we never give money to an athlete that doesn’t deserve it in the first place, regardless of how badly the coach wants them or how good they are at their particular sport. Our financial aid department doesn’t view athletes and non-athletes separately, we see all students who need aid as one large group of people that have to all be evaluated equally and fairly.

Being talented athletically and academically strong will certainly put you in a better position to be considered for merit aid or grant money by any institution if you show a demonstrated need. All schools compete for top students and being able to offer a talented student (regardless of whether they are an athlete or not) more money is a tool all schools use to try and get the best students to enroll in their school. We don’t place as much emphasis on athletic talent when deciding who to give money to as other institutions might, and we look at all our applicants as a whole when deciding who needs money and who should get money.

Is this going to be the case for every college?
I am sure there are instances where an athlete at another college may have been awarded additional money that they didn’t fully deserve, but that doesn’t happen in our system. it’s not an issue for football or basketball because those sports are fully funded, it’s the other sports where this can potentially happen. (Baseball is a good example as a coach has only 11.78 scholarships if they are fully funded to divide up among 25+ players)

Is a family’s EFC (estimated family contribution) through FAFSA always going to be the same?
Filling out the FAFSA gives you a single monetary number which is your EFC or what the government and a college reasonably expect you to contribute to your education per year. While your EFC may change from year to year, it has nothing to do with what school you are attending or want to attend. You input your financial and family data into your FAFSA form and it returns a dollar amount and your EFC will be the same regardless of whether you apply to a school that is $20,000 per year or $40,000 per year. Your need is then determined by subtracting your EFC from the total cost of what school you would like to attend. So if your EFC is $20,000 and you want to attend a school that is $30,000 per year, your need will be roughly $10,000 which can be made up through a variety of grants and loans.

The start date for filing FAFSA is January 1st, will filling out the FAFSA form after that date affect your EFC?
No, whether you fill out the form January 1st or January 29th, it won’t affect your EFC number. We need all FAFSA information in by February 15th since we need to make application decisions so you cannot wait that long and many schools will be the same way. Please note: At the time of this interview, the FAFSA application started on January 1. The FAFSA application now starts on October 1

College Financial Aid Process

College Financial Aid Process

What mistakes do you see on the FAFSA form that families often make?
There are two big mistakes I see quite a bit (1) – Don’t report retirement money. FAFSA doesn’t ask for this but some people report it anyway and when schools find out your parents have $800,000 saved in their 401K program, you aren’t going to be getting a lot of aid. The only retirement money you should report is money used for retirement programs for the tax year you are using to apply for financial aid. (2) – Don’t report savings as an asset of the student. Parental assets are counted at 5.6% and student assets are counted at 35% which is much higher. Some parents set up an account for their son or daughter and think this will save them money. If the income is truly the students you should count it as so, but you shouldn’t move your money into the name of a student. The same applies for grandparents wishing to give their grandchildren money for college. You are better off giving it to the parents than the student.

What other issues have you run in with student-athletes?
There was a soccer player who was offered a partial athletic scholarship by our school. She was also the recipient of a soccer scholarship at her high school that was privately set up and awarded to her based on her soccer ability. Our school had to withdraw our athletic scholarship offer because our offer and the money she received from her school via the private scholarship put our soccer team over the equivalency limit.

What should a family do if their aid package isn’t enough?
Every family has the right to appeal and I encourage people to do so. Our acceptances go out the last week of March and we receive deposits back very quickly. Based on who enrolls, we may have more money free up in April. So if you think you need more money, April is a good time to call and ask. You might not get it, but by then we will have a better idea if more money is available and whether or not we can give you more money. Each school will obviously be a little different, so it’s important to inquire as to the basic appeal procedures and dates for each school you are interested in.

What is the PROFILE form
The PROFILE form is an additional form that 350+ colleges use in order to determine how to allocate institutional aid. The PROFILE form is run by the College Board (the company that runs the SAT test) and there is a $5 fee to enroll and an $18 fee per school for any school that requires the form. The profile form asks for more financial aid data than the FAFSA form such as home value. The schools that use the PROFILE are schools that usually have more money to give away. While the FAFSA only counts a custodial parent, the PROFILE will ask for information from both parents regardless of marital status or who you lived with. The FAFSA formula is very rudimentary and hasn’t changed much and the PROFILE form allows colleges access to more pertinent financial information and assets. In some cases the PROFILE form can hurt students because you have cases where parents are divorced and one parent will not contribute to the education of their son or daughter even though their assets may be very high.

What happens if my need is being met through an athletic scholarship and the coach decides to reduce or cut my aid award in year 2, 3, or 4?
Like any other student who is getting aid, we would evaluate what you “need” and what is available and try to find a comparable aid package.

Are there other ways a student can put themselves in a better position to receive more aid from a school?
Aside of being an academically strong student, students who might require more aid could consider looking at departments that are less competitive for applications. At our school, acceptance to our Engineering and science programs are extremely difficult because there are thousands of students trying to get into those departments. On the flip side, our education and arts departments are not as competitive and depending on the school, some colleges will allocate more money to certain departments in order to not only attract more students, but better students. In our case, we are trying to attract more Education and Arts students and there is an incentive for us to consider offering students interested in those departments more aid because it will increase their chances of enrolling in our University.

How does that apply to coaches or recruited student-athletes?
Well, many coaches come to us and ask us what programs might have more aid available because it gives the coach an idea of what players they might be able to recruit. If a coach has two recruits with the same skill and the same amount of need that are both interested in the school, but one wants to major in Engineering and one wants to major in Education, the coach might lean towards the Education major thinking he/she has a better chance to not only get accepted, but a better chance to receive more aid from the school if their grades and need warrant more aid. The only problem is that if we are going to be awarding more aid to a certain department (say the Education department), all applicants to that department will be looked at as a whole, and not just an individual athlete.

Is it possible for a student to get more aid than their determined need?
There are two scenario’s where this can happen. (1) All college coaches are free to make athletic scholarship offers to any student-athletes they are recruiting so long as they have the athletic funds available. This means a coach could offer a recruit $30,000 a year in athletic scholarship money even though that same recruit might later fill out the FAFSA form only to learn that their “need” is not $30,000 per year. Coaches are free to offer athletic money to any potential recruit regardless of need. However, if your need is determined to be $10,000 per year and you are offered a $15,000 per year athletic scholarship, you will not be eligible for any additional money from the school because the school will see your need as met, unless you qualify academically for any merit awards or grants, but the system isn’t designed to give students more than they really need! (2) There is also a federal Pell Grant which is available to the neediest of families. I have seen instances of student-athletes on full scholarship qualifying for a federal Pell Grant in order to cover some additional expenses related to attending college. To qualify for a Pell Grant I believe your EFC has to be extremely low, say $4,000 per year.

If a family gets an indication from a coach as to how much money they are offering in athletic aid, does that family have to include that figure on any financial aid forms?
No. The money wouldn’t be guaranteed anyway until a player signs and NLI, but you do not have to disclose any athletic scholarship offers on the FAFSA form. Once an offer has been made from a coach to you and we have received both your application for admission and FAFSA information, the school will be the one to make sure all the numbers fit and how money will be allocated to you.

Should families rely on the Federal Government to fund their education?
Surprisingly, the Government does not have that much money to give. The Pell Grant program is for the neediest of families and much of the other money available comes in the form of Federal Student Loan Programs which are subsidized (the government pays the interest on the loan while the student is in school and the Federal Work-Study program. Work-Study is difficult for athletes due to the time constraints they have from both school work and athletic participation.