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The cost of college: District 99 program helps students navigate financial aid process


Determining how to pay for college can be a daunting task for many, but officials in Community High School District 99 hope they’ve put students and their families in a position to navigate the financial aid process.

A virtual event, held Thursday, featured an appearance by Frank Palmassani, a member of the Illinois Association of College Admissions Counselors, the National Association of College Admissions Counselor and the College Board and the author of “Right College, Right Price.” It also had a question-and-answer session with representatives from St. Xavier University in Chicago, Bradley University in Peoria, St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa; and the University of Tampa.

Among the topics addressed during the event were grade-point averages, test scores, declaration of major and how they influence college admission decisions and the financial aid process.


Several panelists said the university allows prospective students to stack more than one scholarship award if financial assistance comes from outside sources. However, they said universities reserve the right to package assistance up to the cost of attendance should a student have more than is needed.


In responding to a question from the audience, Teri Manderino, a college and career school counselor for District 99, spoke of how landing a job through federal work study compares to working a higher-paying job that’s not part of the program. She said the earnings through work study may not be calculated as part of one’s expected family contribution for the following year.


Palmasssani said there is a $6,000 threshold before it is required that 50% of all earnings are added to the expected family contribution.


Several panelists said having a rigor of coursework and staying on track with one’s major remain important in the college admission decision and financial aid process. They also said declaring a major is not required of prospective students.


Most of the panelists weren’t prepared to respond to questions about standardized test optionality and its potential moving forward.

Colleges and universities typically require that students take either the ACT or the SAT in order to be admitted. Because of the pandemic, however, test optionality is a concept several panelists said they have adopted this year.

Sara Daugherty of Bradley University said the plan is to be test optional next year.


Several panelists said the university tends to look at the whole student and is using a non-competitive process to determine if one makes a good fit for the institution and how much financial assistance to award.


One audience member asked how the pandemic might calculate into how much financial aid a college or university is offering.


In reply, Palmassani said there are situations where the FAFSA doesn’t always offer a good indicator of a family’s ability to pay for college. He said this is where a college or university’s appeal process, or special conditions, come into play.

“If I was a parent of a senior, I would’ve given income from 2019, but because of the pandemic or whatever reason, my 2020 income is lower,” Palmassani said. “My 2021 income projection is much lower. Well, ultimately, that information needs to be communicated to the colleges because the colleges may be able to use that information and then determine if that award that initially they would provide should be offered.”



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