2. Who gets aid?
Financial aid is no longer limited to just the hardest-pressed families. "There's a huge misconception that financial aid is only available if you are poor," says the College Board's Jack Joyce. Of course, you are still more likely to qualify for aid if your annual income is less than $70,000, but many schools will offer some aid to talented students whose parents earn more. Colleges and universities are increasingly offering aid to good students to improve the reputation of the school. "Colleges are recognizing that there are some very good students who don't qualify for federal aid, but can't afford to pay the full bill," says Posich.
The federal government dishes out the majority of available aid as grants and loan guarantees. The formulas used to calculate who gets aid are based largely on income. "The financial aid process is driven much more by income than assets," says Joyce. In general, aid is harder to obtain when income exceeds $100,000 and only one child is in school. If there are two or more children in school simultaneously, however, a family with an income of $150,000 may still qualify. Of course, it is impossible to give hard and fast guidelines about whether a particular student will receive aid, but you can do some preliminary calculations on websites such as www.collegeboard.com and www.finaid.com.
Next: Cracking the aid formulas >>