Five common questions about financial aid | Five common questions about college admissions

WRAL is here to help take some of the stress out of applying for college and paying the bill.

Representatives from 24 different colleges and universities in North Carolina will take your calls to answer questions about the college admission process and how to pay for college and how to get the most financial aid.

Spanish speakers will also be on hand to answer questions.

What do colleges consider in the admission process?

Admission requirements vary depending on the type and selectivity of the college. Some colleges, like NC’s community colleges are open-door institutions for high school graduates. As for four-year colleges, they range from open-door to highly selective. The more selective the college, the more variables they’ll consider.

According to a recent survey of colleges conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, here are the top 10 factors colleges said had considerable importance in admitting students:

  • Grades in college prep courses
  • Strength of curriculum (courses)
  • Admission test scores (such as SAT and ACT)
  • Grades in all courses
  • Essay or writing sample
  • Student’s demonstrated interest
  • Counselor recommendation
  • Class rank
  • Teacher recommendation
  • Extracurricular activities

Find more details on NC college entrance requirements at from the College Foundation of North Carolina.

When should I apply?

Generally, it’s best for high school students to apply in the fall of their senior year. Deadlines vary from college to college. Check the admissions section of the college website, or view a complete listing of application deadlines for NC colleges from the College Foundation of North Carolina.

How many colleges should I apply to?

The first step is to narrow your choices based on factors such as:

  • Academics – which colleges have the major(s) you need?
  • Personal Preferences – which colleges fit your preferences for things like distance from home, campus culture, specific clubs/programs and campus setting (urban, rural)?
  • Affordability – while it’s best not to exclude a college because it might initially seem unaffordable, it’s wise to consider factors such as financial aid program availability, living and transportation costs, and possible on-campus jobs.

Once you’ve narrowed your choices, start looking at the admissions requirements and selectivity of schools you like. Many counselors recommend choosing one or two “safe” colleges that are likely to accept you, a couple for which you are definitely qualified, and maybe a couple of “reach” colleges that are quite competitive.

How much does it cost to apply?

Most application fees are between $50 and $100; NC community colleges do not charge an application fee. Some colleges who normally charge an application fee may waive their fee during special events or if you visit the campus. If you have a financial need, ask your school counselor if you qualify for a College Board fee waiver. Many colleges will waive their application fee if you submit a College Board fee waiver from your school counselor.

How soon will I know if I’m accepted?

For colleges with open-door admission policies, you’ll know after you complete the admission steps (such as taking a placement test and submitting transcripts). The timeline varies for other colleges depending on the process they use. Some colleges review applications throughout the year, and might take only a few weeks to respond. Other colleges have several deadlines throughout the year and then you’ll hear based on which deadline you met. The admissions page of the college website should tell you the process they use, and college admission staff are more than happy to take your questions.

Why should I complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid?

Because, if you don’t, you might miss out on qualifying for federal and state aid to help you pay for college. Completing the FAFSA doesn’t take long and, a number of factors are considered, not just income, so it never hurts to fill out the form – it won’t cost you a penny because it really is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid.

Fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 in your senior year in high school and every year that you are in college. If you need help completing the form, there’s free assistance throughout North Carolina.

What year’s tax filing do I use to file the 2017-2018 FAFSA?

You will use your 2015 tax filing information. Most people can use the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to automatically transfer tax information into your FAFSA. You will be prompted on the electronic FAFSA to use the tool.

What is the FSA ID?

The FSA ID, used to sign the electronic FAFSA, requires the following for both the student and one parent:

     Email address, user name, password, and answer to secret questions

Make sure these are kept in a secure place as they will be needed to retrieve your FAFSA.

Whose income and asset information is reported on the FAFSA?

For a dependent student, both student’s and parents’ income and asset information is required. Find information on who is considered a parent on the FAFSA site.

What other financial aid is there for college?

There are grants and scholarships from the federal government, the state, colleges and universities, community groups and more. Explore all of these you can because it’s money you don’t have to pay back.

There may be part-time work on the campus of the school you attend that would help you pay for college. The financial aid office at the college can give you more information.

If you borrow only what you really need, education loans are another way to pay for college. Compare loan type, interest rate and fees carefully before you borrow.