Financial assistance is becoming increasingly difficult to acquire


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As the cost of post-secondary education continues to rise, it comes as no surprise that an increasing percentage of students are seeking financial aid. However, obtaining financial assistance has proven to be a treacherous course for many prospective students, especially those who come from middle-class families in moderately affluent regions.

Many institutions award financial aid based off of a student’s household income, creating a predicament for plenty of students in Northern Virginia. The median household income in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria statistical area is $85,168 (U.S. News), which is considerably higher than the median U.S. household income of $57,617 (United States Census Bureau). This discrepancy creates an illusion that residents of Northern Virginia have more money to put toward education, failing to take into account the region’s high cost of living. Compared to other regions of the country, the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria statistical area ranks 13th for the highest cost of living in the United States (U.S. News).

When this is considered, students coming from Northern Virginia are in need of financial assistance just as much as other students throughout the nation.

Because the amount of financial aid awarded is typically low relative to the total cost of higher education, students often look to scholarships as a means of funding for their education. However, many students who come from a middle-class background have difficulty finding scholarships for which they are eligible, as a decent proportion of scholarships either have a financial need requirement or prioritize financial need above other requirements. This leaves middle-class students at a disadvantage in the hunt for scholarships, rapidly narrowing an already limited amount of opportunities available to them.

Additionally, some students and their families remain uninformed when it comes to the true value of a scholarship. Many students misunderstand the parameters of scholarships in general, believing that a scholarship will provide funding for all four years of the student’s undergraduate endeavors, when in reality many scholarships are awarded for just one or two years.

Not only are students vastly unaware of the extent of scholarships, but they are also oblivious to how scholarships can impact financial aid awarded by a college or university. While many students and families expect scholarship money to accumulate and add onto the financial aid being awarded by the school, that is not always the case. Some institutions actually take money away from a student who receives a scholarship, replacing money that the school was initially going to award the student with the money that the student receives from the outside scholarship. While this does allow more funds to be given to other students in need, it is deceptive to families who believe that scholarships simply add to the money provided by the school and ultimately creates a great deal of confusion and frustration.

Although the attainment of financial aid and scholarships can appear to be straightforward, the process is much more complex than it superficially seems. In order to provide middle-class families and others who come from various socioeconomic backgrounds with a sufficient amount of assistance, institutions must take a more holistic approach to the examination of a student’s financial background to properly assess their needs.