The Search, S2, Episode Five Transcript

The Search

Financial Fit

Lee Coffin:
From Dartmouth College, I'm Lee Coffin, dean of admissions and financial aid. Welcome to "The Search."

For many of us, choosing a college is a two-part equation. First, you have to be accepted. Then, when affordability is a non-negotiable factor, like it was in my family, a financial aid award must be received, reviewed, and digested. The net price calculators projected need during your search. The financial aid award that you have now confirms that need as your decision comes into focus. In admissions, we talk about "fit." The program, the people, the place must align with your persona, your aspirations, and your hopes.

In financial aid, we talk about "financial fit."  Does the award make sense for you and your family? And there are so many questions to ponder. Did the college meet your need? Is that offer guaranteed for all four years? What's the ratio between the scholarship and alone? What's your expected family contribution? How much do you have to earn during the summer, during the school year? What happens when your older sister graduates from college next year, or when your younger brother enrolled in college the year after that? Can you study abroad and still be on financial aid? Can you go home? Will be covered travel? Are there resources for winter clothes for kid from a warm place?

There's no uniform approach to what every college offers by way of financial aid and the financial aid awards. So we thought at this point it was important to have a conversation with two people who know how to guide you from getting in to being able to afford it. So we're joined today by my colleague, Dino Koff, who is the director of financial aid at Dartmouth, and by Erica Rosales, who is the executive director of College Match in Los Angeles. Erica, let's start with you, just really quickly. Tell us a little bit about College Match?

Erica Rosales:
First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to this very important conversation. College Match is a college access organization that has been operating in Los Angeles for close to 18 years now. I've been with the organization 15 years, and I've really help the organization grow, but it has also has helped me grow as a professional, so that I can advise students in finding their best fit, and particularly their best financial fit.

So College Match works with low income, mostly first-generation students. Students who have done everything in their power to get to a four year college. Most of our students are students who attend large public schools in Los Angeles, and they have big dreams. I see a lot of me in them. I myself, I'm a first-generation college graduate. I graduated from a big high school in Los Angeles, from Garfield High School. And honestly, I did not know what I was doing, but I knew that I needed to get to college.

 But I also knew I needed to follow the money. So what we give our students is…I don't want them to feel like they're getting to college by luck, or that they're just out there on their own. We really give them the tools to navigate the college application, and financial aid process, because if both of them are super important. Pre-COVID times, we gave our students trips to the East Coast. Thank you so much Dartmouth, because you've also always welcomed our students and given them such great visits.

We give them SAT prep, and then we provide them individualized college application, and financial aid support to get them into the best college for them with the most financial aid.

Lee Coffin:
Great. Like you, I went to a big public high school. First in my family go to college. I remember getting my financial aid award, opening it up, gasping that what I saw as a scholarship covered the whole cost of attendance for that first year. And I couldn't believe it. And I now know they were meeting 100% of my demonstrated need, but as an 18-year-old in that happy moment, I just saw a lot of zeros on the award, and it made me really happy.

So, helping admitted students go from this early part of April all the way to May to figure out what have they been offered. Can they afford it? Does it make sense? It's going to be a really important conversation. So Dino, let's start at a really practical place. So a student gets admitted and in most places, the financial aid award comes concurrently or pretty soon thereafter. And student or parent guardian opens it up. What are the elements of the award that somebody should be paying attention to right out of the gate?

Dino Koff:
Unfortunately they're not standardized. So it would make life a lot easier for students if we could have the same components in an award letter. So for example, if all schools could have an estimated cost of attendance, and that term is basically all your educational expenses. It will show you tuition and fees and housing and food, books and supplies, transportation. That's a cost to get to your school and back and miscellaneous items. You're using shampoo at home now, we want you to use that personal items, things like that in college.

So that all makes up the cost of attendance, which we would hope would be on everybody's award letter. But unfortunately that doesn't happen. So when you get your award letter, hopefully you're looking at what is the total cost. You're filling out these forms, and you're looking at the results of these forms. What is your family contribution? What is your student contribution? What is your parent contribution? And then you're looking at your financial aid that's offered. Did I qualify for scholarships? Did I qualify for grants work?

Hopefully there's a work component. Loans, and is that in the award? And then you we're hoping that you see from colleges or universities, what's the net price? What am I responsible for as the student? What is going to be the actual cost? Not here's all my awards, but what is the cost of the school minus my scholarship. So that allows me to look at the award and compare offers because I know here's my total cost.

Lee Coffin:
So Erica, as you hear Dino lay that out, do many of your families, most of your families understand that logic? Do they trip on the difference between tuition room and board and total cost of attendance?

Erica Rosales:
One thing that I learned early on when I started working with College Match was that if we were not involving the families from early on, then it was very difficult to get them to understand what that total cost of attendance, and what the net price was for them. So very early on, we started involving families beginning junior year, right? Because financial aid is based on a family's ability to pay, right?

So you do have to fill out these forms, and there forms that are very intimidating. Because FAFSA, the federal government, and then obviously also the college side and all of our students all fill out the CSS profile. So that's two. Those are two big applications. And they're asking a lot of questions that many of our families don't feel comfortable revealing to people that they don't know. But just once we explained to them the process, and how these calculations are made, then they can start believing that perhaps there are people out there who want to invest in their children's education just as much as they do.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. So we have the cost of attendance and Dina or Erica, if the aid form doesn't share that, where could a family find it?

Erica Rosales:
When a college doesn't include that, we are left to going out on a website and looking for that information on a website. Which complicates things even further, because here you have institution "A" offering you perhaps $15,000 to cover tuition, but then you don't know that you still have to pay for room and board. You still have to pay for those incidentals, for books, and you have to come up with your own calculations based on your own research. So that complicates matters even more during a very short period of time. You have about what? Maybe four weeks of you're lucky to make a decision. And by the time you have all your offers in front of you, you're left with maybe two weeks to do all that comparison. So it's two weeks of doing a lot of math.

Lee Coffin:
So Dino, would it make sense for anybody who has financial aid as a non-negotiable part of this decision to make a checklist for themselves that might say, "Okay, going into five colleges, I'm going to have five columns." It's on the form and it's straightforward, or I have to dig a little bit on a website to fill in some of these blanks. So books would be a line.  If you're a student from Montana, and you're applying to schools on the East Coast, somehow you have to get back and forth a few times a year. So travel would be another one.

Dino Koff:
Sometimes it's just as simple as a spreadsheet. And we talk about listing the components, right? Tuition and fees and the housing and food, books and miscellaneous items, transportation. And we're just saying, let's list out the total cost of attendance. And if it's five schools in the example you just gave, what is the cost for that student for all five, the total cost. And then let's subtract the scholarship. Put it right on the spreadsheet. And that's how you get the net price for all the schools. And then you know, "Okay, school A is going to cost me out of pocket $12,000. School be out of pocket is going to be $8,000."

But if I'm not talking about loans at this point, it's just total... what is it going to cost to my family? And that really helps sort of demystify and make the comparison, and the visuals happen. And that's why these, whether it's a family, whether it's mentors, college counselors, CBO, whether it's the colleges. Those conversations are really important to make sure we're always comparing apples to apples.

Lee Coffin:
Are there any hidden costs?

Dino Koff:
In these costs of attendance, you're hoping that all the costs are there, but over time through your four years, there can be some things that you want to ask about. We have 50, 57 or 60% of our students do an off-campus program at Dartmouth, and that's an extra cost. So from a student from Los Angeles flying to Rome, Italy, it's going to cost more. Dartmouth financial aid goes with you. So life is good. You can have that same experience and be in Rome, but you want to ask all your schools. What are the hidden costs, or their healthcare costs? Are there internship costs? If you have an unpaid internship, can you accept that, or are there different pots of money to be able to apply for to get funding to have these experiences.

Lee Coffin:
How about clothing? So Erica, you live in a very lovely part of the country where it never snows. So let's say one of your kids is going to Minnesota. Is clothing part of a cost of attendance, or a financial aid award, or is that sort of an extra variable that someone just needs to think about?

Erica Rosales:
I would consider it an extra variable that somebody needs to think about, because there are very few schools that actually added on to their cost of attendance. So that's a talk that we have with our students. Many of our students are going to colder climates. So we do talk to them about different resources. So I do know that there are some colleges that have a student aid society, or they have closets where students can go in and framed warmer clothes. But this is where some outside scholarships can come into play. One thing that typically surprises our students is healthcare. So they healthcare expectation.

So that's a cost that should be taken into account when you're comparing different financial aid packages, because some schools will help you with that. Some schools included in their financial aid awards, other schools do not, and expect the student's family to cover that.

Lee Coffin:
All right. So we've covered costs. Let's talk about the financial aid award itself. So there's this scholarship component, or on some campuses it's called a grant. And when I talk to families, kids, I say scholarship, or grant means the same thing, and that's the best kind of financial aid because you don't need to pay it back. It is an award from the college to you to cover all or most of the cost of attendance. You might have a loan, we can come back and talk about this. You will likely have work study. So a federal stipend to cover a campus job. What else do you know? What are the other potential elements of somebody's financial aid award?

Dino Koff:
I think those are the big things that you just hit. We really do like the scholarship, and grant, the free money. Then the work component. One thing that might not show as an award, but it's most of many schools have, I should say is the summer earnings expectation. So before you come to college some schools will say, we would like you to earn a thousand dollars or $1,500, maybe up to 2000. And some people are able to do that. Some people aren't, and schools will offer a loan many times for the summer earnings if students aren't able to do that.

And that usually is for four years, the summer earnings or the leave term earnings. The term you're not enrolled during the year, you have an expectation that schools want you to, as Erica said, take part in the financing of your education. That would be your responsibility, the student responsibility. That is separate from the work study which is during your semester, or term where you're working hourly. That again is your responsibility in the term.

Lee Coffin:
Erica, do you see students particularly now during COVID being able to earn those dollars? Or what should people be thinking about as we're still in a public health situation that might make it harder for someone to have a job, or you might need to be working, and give that money to your family to help them pay living expenses. Because maybe mom, dad, guardian lost a job and you're helping to pay rent or buy food.

Erica Rosales:
Yeah. So I'm going to say both, right? But that's what I see with our students. Particularly during this year, I've seen a lot of students take on extra responsibility at home. They're doing schoolwork virtually, but then they have taken on part-time work, or some students even full-time work to help meet the needs of their families. Because we have families, parents who have lost jobs and it's easier for the young person to find a job, and has they have more flexibility than the parents do.

And also I've seen students get really creative. So I've seen a lot of students doing tutoring, virtual tutoring and getting paid for that. So I think where there's a will, there's a way, and students find a way to contribute to their own education and also to their families.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. And Dino, if a student is working more than we would expect them to work, so that they can support their family, how does that factor into their financial aid award or doesn't?

Dino Koff:
So normally, it really doesn't and if it's a normal or even someone working a considerable amount, it doesn't affect the award pre college essentially. Because we see it. Absolutely, when they come to college, they still may be working. We expect that Dartmouth eight to 10 hours a week if someone is working, we do see students who do more. But it's really tough financially to earn enough as a student to significantly change your award.

Lee Coffin:
Ideally, the college meets 100% of the demonstrated needs. I need 40. It gives me 40 and some combination of elements that we've been talking about. But a lot of colleges don't have the resources to make that kind of commitment to me not because they don't want to, that they can't. So I needed 40 and I got 18. So that's called a gap. I'm looking at the financial aid award and there is a 20,000, $22,000 difference that I'll borrow it. I'll ask my grandparents for it. I'll work extra hours. Does that make sense?

Because it's my dream school, and I'm really determined to make it happen. But on the affordability question, it's a swing and a miss. So how should I be thinking of... and I have this other option that I'm not as excited about, but I can afford it. Help me.

Erica Rosales:
We try to avoid that by making sure that students are applying to institutions that meet demonstrated need, but oftentimes students do. They think they fall in love with an institution. And I say that because I do start off by telling students that you're going to have a lot of dream colleges, because it really does depend on the day that you show up to take a tour. But what you want to think about is you want to think about the experience that you're going to have at that institution. And you are a student first. So for the next four years of your life, you want to be a student first.

That means when I talked about investing in yourself, you're investing in your learning. You're investing in your experiences. You're investing in what resume you can build up because there will be a life after. Your preparing for a life after college, and hopefully you get to enjoy your college life. So the number one thing I would tell you is like right now that college seems like a dream college to you, but once if you take on this experience, it might end up being a burden because you may end up having to work too much. And if you're working too many hours, that means that you don't get to do the homework, do the reading.

You don't get to participate in the extra-curricular activities. The things that make the school appealing will not be available you because you won't have the time. So it's really important that you think about that. So these are the next four years of your foundation, and you want to ensure that you have a very strong foundation. And oftentimes when I see students take on a college that requires too much work, too many hours of work instead of studying, students end up burning out. Number one is you want to graduate? That is the goal.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. So we've covered the elements of the award. We've covered the cost of attendance. What happens if those numbers don't line up? So you look at it in a word and you say, "Oh, this doesn't seem like it works." Can they appeal? Or is the door shut?

Erica Rosales:
Well, it happened to me. So when I was a student, a high school senior, and I got into my dream college, a need-blind institution, the numbers didn't add up. I actually went to my college counselor, who was, to her credit, she was a college counselor for 5,000 students at that time, lots of students. And what she told me, she said, "Well, I guess you can't go there." This was pre-internet. So I called the school. They had me fax over some extra pay. I just remember there was some stuff missing. They didn't understand our whole family situation.

After I sent that and they sent me back a financial aid package and you Lee, I saw all those zeros and all of a sudden I was like, "My gosh, my dream actually came true." I can actually go to this school. They're actually paying me to learn. So I would say at institutions like Dartmouth, highly selective institutions, private institutions, I would say it's worth a shot to appeal. Especially if you really can't afford it. And for some reason, those numbers are not adding up. You at least want an explanation.

Lee Coffin:
Well, and what's interesting about your example is wasn't even an appeal so much as there was some misunderstanding in your materials. So you had a clarification of the data that was submitted and that shifted the whole terms of your financial aid award. Do you know what happens if someone... should someone call it financial aid award? We rethink this with you.

Dino Koff:
I would make that phone call even before an appeal. But I think it's important to understand when you have your spreadsheet that we were talking about earlier, maybe with those five schools, what is this based on? Is my scholarship based on merit, is it based on need? Most schools will have that on the award. But I think it's important to call the school. The dialogue is really important, and we're always encouraging. Everybody's situation is different, and sometimes that conversation will help you understand, "Okay, this is how the parent contribution happened."

We go through and then we would say, "Okay, it sounds like you do have different information. We want you to appeal." When we hear, "Oh, there was someone who lost a job that wasn't on the paperwork that we received." There are sometimes things that will jump that aren't in your file, but in that dialogue that were happening, we'll create a situation where we say, "Okay, this is what we need to do." And again, it's to try to figure out how can we make this happen? Can it always happen perfectly?

Unfortunately no, but I would definitely have a dialogue with the school. And that's why it's so important. This is a four year relationship with the financial aid office when you pick that school. This isn't just a one-year thing. We're hopefully creating a relationship for four years, or maybe even beyond.

Lee Coffin:
In this appeals zone, what would be some of the scenarios that someone could say, "Oh, what happens if grandma lives with the family, and that's another person in the household." But that had not been included on the FAFSA or on the profile. Would that be something that might reopen the conversation?

Dino Koff:
There might be something that's happening to the family that we don't see. And especially now, the timing of this discussion is being 2021, 2019 seems so long ago. And that's the tax season that the taxes we're working on. So when you talk about family members, we do have families that downsized, and moved in together. We do have people that had incredible healthcare costs or furloughs, and they still haven't made it back to 40 hours a week. But we can't tell that from the forms unless we're given that information. And that's why that dialogue is so important.

But a lot of the things we're seeing now are businesses that have been really affected by the economy, healthcare issues, unfortunately deaths in families. And these are all things that we want to work with, and schools will, both on the federal side and the institutional side. So to see, can we qualify students for more federal money? Can we qualify them more for college money? This is a process that we want to have these discussions with families.

Lee Coffin:
Well, it sounds like we have a COVID moment here too, because FAFSA uses the 2019, the prior tax year. 2020 was the year from hell. So, many of us had circumstances that changed that were not captured directly by FAFSA. So is there a permission structure right here for... maybe Erica, has seen this more in her work, where those 2020 circumstances should be things that families are ready to bring forward as soon as they can. Because it hasn't been documented or am I dramatize in that too much?

Erica Rosales:
No. I think there is this that moment right now, and that's one of the things that we are already doing with our students. There have been situations. One, they were able to write about it in what makes we advise them to in their CSS profile, because they have that area there. But we also do believe that they need to be ready to discuss that, and have the proper documentation if needed once they do get into college.

Lee Coffin:
So let's jump up into kind of the middle, upper middle income tier, where I've seen families get tripped up on savings. Where they have a lot of money set aside for college, but their expectation is you've got $50,000 and two kids. So I divide that by two it's 25,000 per kid, and it's four or $5,000 a year. And then the college says, "No. You've got 50, let's spend that first." And empty at your piggy bank. And then we'll start the conversation. And that seems counterintuitive to anybody who has saved money and done a budget and then wants to spend it over time.

So Dino, what's the logic of that? Because I know it's the federal guideline. I'll say this as a Dean of admission. It's always been the thing that I think it doesn't make sense to a family's checkbook and the way you plan your finances, but it's the rule, right?

Dino Koff:
So, we'll capture assets when people are filling out their forms. And when I say capture assets, that's looking at your savings or investments. That will be captured on a form. And in the formulas, there are different percentages. And so sometimes we hear, "Okay, I'm being penalized because I saved 50,000 or a hundred thousand, and now I'm not qualifying for as much aid." When I hear that statement, I look at the formulas and I say, "I would much rather have $50,000 and lose $2,500 in grants or 5,000 in grants and have $50,000."

If your options are using savings or a loan, we say savings because a loan may accrue interest, and you want to use that first. And it's taking it year by year. And we're going to go year by year with you. We're going to work with you to say again, "Here are the options."

Lee Coffin:
To me one of the hidden truths is the financial aid officers are counselors. And they are counseling you towards wise decision-making to the degree they can do that within the rules, but the national rules, but also the institutional rules. But going into this conversation with a financial aid officer is not like showing up at the car dealership and saying, "I don't want to buy that car for that price." Is it okay for a family to come to you and say, "You gave me 20, college X gave me 23." And they put the two offers side by side not in a, let's make a deal mode, but in what's different about these two awards? Is that a useful way of approaching you?

Dino Koff:
It isn't, let's make a deal. Monty Hall isn't here to open up a curtain and say "Here it is." We have specific roles that we have to go by. But again, it's trying to demystify and if we can't make someone happy, at least they'll understand.

Lee Coffin:
So let's talk about the four letter word, loan. So where does a loan fit in this? And I say it's a four letter word because it is a four letter word. But I think some people get really nervous about the idea of borrowing money. So it's a two-part. Where does the loan fit into this? there's federal loans, and then there's the non-federally subsidized loans. Two really different types of loans. And then the third question to talk about is, how much is too much when you're borrowing money?

Erica Rosales:
One thing that I have found over the years is that our students are more afraid of loans. I think it's because there is so much talk, there's so much in the national news about people being in debt, and not being able to pay back. And so I think that question of how much is too much is a definitely a good one. My rule of thumb with our students, I always tell them if you're going to go to a four year college, you need a plan to graduate first of all. It's a four-year plan because when you take out a loan, even if you don't graduate, you still have to pay back that loan.

So you want to make sure that you are investing in yourself and the way you're doing that is by getting that college degree. I tell students at $25,000, you can pay back after you graduate from a four-year institution. That's kind of like what I use, because I think that's kind of, and Dino correct me if I'm wrong, I think that's kind of like the federal guideline for low-income students. I think it's worked because most of our students do graduate can find gainful employment and it's something that they can slowly pay back.

Dino Koff:
Loans are there to help families, and in the media in the headlines, they definitely are scaring people. Obviously we would like students to have grants and scholarships and work. There may be a piece that isn't covered. And if a student is going to be at a four year institution, you want students to have outside of the classroom experiences. And if that means that you have to take a thousand dollar loan out, because you have different expenses that you may need, it's there for you. You don't have to take it.

Lee Coffin:
So just quickly. So a subsidized federal loan, when does a student start to pay that back?

Dino Koff:
So a student will go into repayment six months after graduation, or some of the student ceases to enroll at six months after their enrollment ends.

Lee Coffin:
Does the interest accrue between today when they take out the loan and December 2025?

Dino Koff:
Really good question. So that totally depends on a need. So the government has subsidized loans, schools have subsidized loans. Which subsidized means if it's a federal loan, the government's picking up the interest while you're in school. Dartmouth has subsidized loans. We're picking up the interest why a student is in school. So some schools have that, but it depends on needs. The government sometimes won't pick up the interest for students that don't have need, and that's called an unsubsidized loan. And interest is accruing. So well, until you repay the loan.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. I think the unsubsidized loans are the ones that kind of sneak around the perimeters of this conversation, where a family might take out a personal loan from a bank to pay their family contribution. And there's no limit on that, right? It's not 5,000 a year, 6,000 a year. It could be lots of money that creates a problem.

Dino Koff:
That's where the counseling really comes in. There are so many different options and not just one will be right for a family. It may be a payment plan, and may be saving and may be alone. It may be all of that. And it might be different the second year, because someone might say, "I got a small bonus. I'm going to use that this year and reduce my loan."

Lee Coffin:
This is a really personal conversation. Like somebody may have more appetite for debts or risk, and others might not, or you might have a family situation. You know what? The idea of borrowing any money given our circumstances is a non-starter. That may point someone towards college A instead of college C on the list, because it's just the financial element of this may make more sense.

Erica Rosales:
Yeah. It's such a personal decision. So I have a ninth grade daughter who I know we're already beginning to think about college. But it's a conversation that started when, for us at least, when she was a baby. Is starting to think about it. I know she's going to go to college. How much are we going to be willing to pay for that? How much are we going to be willing to invest in that education? I see it from that perspective, but then I also see it from the perspective of college batch, and the students who I work with.

Where a lot of our students don't have the familial network. I see a lot of our students there. It's them. They're the ones who inevitably, they're the ones who are going to be responsible for their education, for the cost of that education. But also they are investing in transforming their lives because for first-generation student, getting a degree from a highly selective college is transformational. Not just for them, but for their family and for our community.

Lee Coffin:
A couple of last questions. How about outside scholarships? Where do you find them, and how do they fit into this affordability conversation?

Erica Rosales:
Well, I think for our students, they are definitely easy to get and they exist. So for us, January through April is scholarship season. So we have students applying to a lot of outside scholarships, and not just the big national ones that we know of. And every year college match students are Gates scholars and Dell scholars. Those are big national ones. But we do believe that the smaller ones, like the Rotary clubs, the High School Foundations. They're less competitive, right? Because it's a smaller pool, and students apply, and they already have everything they need to apply because they apply to college.

So they have the essays, they have the letters of recommendation. I always say, sit down for an hour, you might make $500. It's really taking the time. Taking your time and investing in yourself and you might end up with some of that money.

Lee Coffin:
What if you were me? I was in a public high school with an overwhelmed guidance office. How do would someone like that find an outside scholarship? Where would you point the, they're not part of an organization and their school and family doesn't really have the resource to say, "Look here." Where did they look?

Erica Rosales:
Well, the internet. I was like, these kids are so lucky. When I was in high school, I found scholarships because I just showed up in the college center, and there were things on bulletin boards. All right. So you follow those instructions, but now there's websites out there. There's College Greenlight, collegegreenlight.org is a national organization. They match students up with different scholarships. There is Fast Web. So you go online and, once again, look for the small ones. Those add up and they're smaller pools. That's my advice on that.

Dino Koff:
So Lee, what's interesting is just to put it in context, students coming to Dartmouth, or bringing outside scholarships, literally at a couple million dollars per class. It's a significant amount and many checks are coming in at more than a thousand dollars. So what Erica, said is absolutely correct. My tip is yes, the internet, but my tip is find somebody in the class before you. So if you're a junior listening to this, find a senior. If you're a senior in high school listening to this, find someone who's in college, or find their family to find out what outside scholarships, what were people winning at your school? What's out there?

And again, that's just on the local side and there's still the web will give you a national of course, and there's some statewide. But I always find at the local level, it's families ahead of you that have gone through the process that will tell you, "Hey, the Boston Red Sox gives in New England a community service scholarship." I never would have known that.

Lee Coffin:
My last question is about the four year journey. So high school seniors focus on getting in, and you've got all of this buzz around the admission process, and then enrolling. But what surprises some students is there's a four year renewal that takes place. So first year into sophomore year, sophomore into junior year, junior year into senior year. They have to go through this financial aid application again, right?

Erica Rosales:
They do.

Dino Koff:
The answer why is on the federal side; you're reapplying for federal aid, and you'll need to do a free application for federal student aid every year. Hopefully it gets easier. At many schools, I can tell you at at Dartmouth, we're not requiring the CSS profile after year one. And that makes life so much easier. And you're turning in tax returns that were prior year. So they're hopefully already a prior year, hopefully already completed. But for need-based schools, they're re-evaluating. So what happens if dramatically your income has gone down? The expectation is for schools that meet full need, your award will go up, and so-

Lee Coffin:
And vice versa.

Dino Koff:
And vice versa. But if a family stays constant over four years, or with minimal increases meaning a cost of living increases, their scholarships should go up every year because college costs tend to go up every year. There's different cost of living adjustments. And so schools are giving out more aid for students that are tracking their income roughly the same or small increases. Hopefully, you've gone through the process once the schools, there are checklists for parents listening to this, ask your students to forward the emails that come out.

And if you want to stay on top of the process. But not every school reduces the forms they need. But it's easy to then walk into the financial aid office to say, "I need help." And we're doing workshops. During COVID, we're doing them online now. Filling out the forms, and in the past, people would come in, and we would work with families. But it should get easier after year one.

Lee Coffin:
It is an ongoing conversation. It's not like college admission where you get in and you never have to go to the admission office again. The financial aid office is your friend for a long time. So as we wrap Erica, and Dino, what words of encouragement would you leave for our seniors right now? If you could put your arm around them and give them a cyber hug? What would you be telling them right now?

Erica Rosales:
Well, one, I would congratulate them for surviving this year definitely. I'll start off with that. It's been the hardest year of in my lifetime. I would just say we are depending on them to go to these colleges, and build our new future. They are amazing, and I am sure that during COVID times they have to come up with some great creative ideas. Go to college so that you can achieve that. And Dino, and Lee said, "We are your friends." I try to tell my students, they're not just office buildings. It's not just the college with office buildings. There are people there, and these people want to make sure that you're successful. So if you've been accepted to a college, that means that they see the potential in you. They see how amazing you are, and they want you there. So, talk to them.

Dino Koff:
That school is opening the admissions door, and hopefully financial aid can keep it open, and the student can walk through it. We try to be as transparent as possible in a process that is complex. So that's our goal is to make this as easy as a process as possible.

Lee Coffin:
I have often thought of the financial aid that made my undergraduate, and graduate degrees possible as a mortgage I was taking on myself. It was placing a bet on my future that the college was going to help me open a new door. I've thought about the loans in particular that I had to pay off. It's like, this was the passport to my future. Without those resources, I could not have gone to the colleges I attended, and the sacrifices I made personally. Working my way through college, taking out loans, watching dad scrape to make his family contribution each term. There was some skin in the game that had a dividend and the dividend was the diploma at the end.

Erica and Dino. Thanks for what you do first of all on behalf of the high school seniors and juniors and their families. But also thanks for spending time with us on The Search and giving some guidance to our friends in the class of 21 who are still feeling their way forward without being in high school. So thanks so much.

Dino Koff:
Thank you, Lee.

Erica Rosales:
Thank you.

Lee Coffin:
As our conversation continues through the series of pods about helping you explore, and make a decision by the beginning of May, we'll invite a group of guidance counselors to join us next week to help you think about how do I pick. There is not an open house this year on campus. I'm doing this all through Zoom and Facebook and Instagram and YouTube, or just my own intuition. How do I sort this out, and just generally land on the place that is the right fit for your interests, and your affordability? So that's next week. Until then I'm Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College. Thanks for joining us.