10 Questions to Ask Your Financial Aid Officer

money running out of the pocket from one man to another

The financial aid officer at your school is tasked with finding you funding so that you can complete your education. If you are considering taking out student loans to get an MFA, here are some questions to ask your financial aid officer so that you don’t get into financial trouble.

1. What Kind of Help Will I Get?

Does the school offer full scholarships? If so, how do you apply and how does the school choose who gets awarded the scholarship funds? Are you getting student loans? If so...

2. What Kind of Loans?

There are different types of student loans. Federal loans are different from private loans. Private loans are less preferable. Federal loans are usually cheaper, have fixed interest rates (as opposed to variable rates) and they’re more easily available. There are often more options for repayment with Federal loans. Private loans can be bought and sold, so you may later end up owing a different entity from where you borrowed.

3. Can You Get an Estimate?

Ask for an estimate on the total cost of your education. Chances are your financial aid officer will not be in a position to give you an accurate total estimate with the reason being that there are too many unknown factors that could change the total amount before you graduate. Ask for a best and worst case scenario. Look at what your estimated payments will be over the life of the loan. Does it make you feel good inside?

4. Do the Numbers Add Up?

Run the numbers yourself. Add up the tuition costs per semester and multiply that times however many semesters you plan to be in the program. Then consider your rent, transportation costs, food, books, supplies, etc. How does that make you feel—drained or energized?

5. Can You Talk to Graduates Who Borrowed?

Talk to graduates who took out the similar amounts in students loans as you. Ask if they feel if it was worth it. It’s especially helpful if you can talk to someone who had the same major as you. Ask that person if they’d do it again and, if so, would they do it differently? If you can’t find anyone in person, try posting on the Education Forum on Craigslist, or search the name of your school on Facebook or LinkedIn and try to connect there.

6. How Much Will Your Pay Each Month? For How Long?

Use a loan calculator to figure out approximately how much you will have to pay per month and for how long after you graduate. Sit with your financial aid advisor and go over the numbers together to see if they’re accurate. How much money will your education cost after you have paid on the loan for X number of years with interest? A $50,000 education can end up costing you almost $93,000 if you take 20 years to pay it off.

7. After Graduating, When Do You Owe?

Assuming you progress directly through the program and graduate, ask for the due date of your first student loan payment and approximately how much that payment will be. It used to be that you had a six month grace period after graduating, but that may have changed.

8. Who Is the Lender?

Loans get bought and sold all the time. Chances are whomever is lending you the money will not be who you end up paying after graduation, because your lender will sell the loan once you’re done. Find out who your lender is, ask if they’ll sell your loan, and ask about how that might effect you. You’ll still owe money no matter what.

9. Is There Another Way?

Once you’ve got the numbers in front of you, ask yourself it there’s another way to get your education or to reach your goals. If you think there is, keep looking until you find it or figure it out.

10. How Do You Feel in Your Gut?

When you have all of the information before you, how do you feel? If the financial aid officer can’t answer your questions, ask yourself why you’re moving ahead with the contract. You wouldn’t buy a car from a dealer who couldn’t tell you how much the car is going to cost. Why would you sign a contract and put yourself in debt for the rest of your life if you’re not sure it’s going to make a positive difference for you or your career?