Where is My Award Letter?

I want to provide an update regarding financial aid award letters.  There are two things that have posed some challenges in generating award information this year.

First, Columbia University is in the process implementing a new university wide financial aid software system.  This changeover has taken a bit longer than expected and we have been working hard to get everything programed to run correctly.

Second, as you might have seen in the news, the Federal government has instituted some new policies that change the way Federal student loans are administered.  This change only took effect recently and we have to integrate this into our software processing.  The loan programs have not changed in substance, it is just that the government will be handling 100% of the processing rather than sharing duties with private banks.

Let me give a short overview of the types of aid that are available and what your package is likely to include.  I will start with U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents.

First, any U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident is eligible for $20,500 per academic year (two semesters) in Stafford Loan funding (assuming the applicant has not defaulted on a previous Federal loan).  There are two types of Stafford Loans: subsidized and unsubsidized.  The government will pay the interest on subsidized loans while students are enrolled and does not pay the interest on unsubsidized loans while you are enrolled.  There is no credit check required to qualify for a Stafford loan and the exact split between subsidized and unsubsidized funding will be based on the expected family contribution (EFC) generated by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  The only lender for these loans is the U.S. Federal Government.

Second, U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents can apply for a federal PLUS loan.  This loan is administered through the Government as well and does require a credit check.  The loan amount can be up to the cost of attendance, minus all other aid received.

So let us say for example that you qualify for $20,500 in Stafford loans and the total cost of attendance  (education and living expenses for one academic year) is $60,000.  You could apply for a PLUS loan up to $39,500 in this scenario ($60,000 minus $20,500).

Third, if you do not wish to apply for PLUS loan or apply for one and are denied, you can pursue a private education loan through a bank.  Many banks offer private loans for educational purposes and you can find a list of such banks here.

Fourth, depending on the EFC generated by your FAFSA, you might be eligible to receive a Perkins loan.  A Perkins loan is also a government based program, but it is administered by Columbia University.  The benefit of a Perkins loan is that it has a lower interest rate however the maximum a student can receive at SIPA is $6,000.  Also, the University only has a limited amount  Perkins funding to award.  Perkins loans are given to applicants with the lowest EFC’s first until the money in the Perkins loan fund for the year has been depleted.

Fifth, work study awards allow students to apply for jobs on campus.  Like the Perkins loan, work study is awarded based on EFC and we do have a limited amount to award.  First year students that receive work study can apply for jobs at SIPA and across the university.

Finally, any funding that have received from SIPA or an outside organization is included in your financial aid calculation.  So, if you were awarded a SIPA fellowship of $20,000, this will be included on your financial aid package and will help to determine the amount of other awards you might qualify for.  In addition, if you have received funding from an outside organization you will have to provide this information to our office so that we can make sure that it gets applied to your student account and included in your financial aid package.

If you are not a U.S. Citizen there are loan options, but at present we are only aware of programs through U.S. banks  that require a cosigner that is typically a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident.  In the past we have worked with banks to provide loans that do not require a U.S. cosigner, however we do not have such an option at this point in time, mainly due to turbulence in the financial markets in recent history. International students can also apply for jobs on campus, but this process is competitive.  To start researching U.S. banks that might be able to offer loans to international students, please click here.

Some applicants have asked about the possibility of working at SIPA to help defer educational costs.  We do provide such positions at SIPA, however they are reserved for second year students.

Our new financial aid software will provide information to you in much the same way that our admission application system does.  When an evaluation of your data has been completed, you will receive an email and you will be asked to log in to an online system to view the awards you are eligible to receive.  We hope to start sending out notices any day now.

Thank you for your patience and if you want to do some more reading on the topic, feel free to visit the financial aid portion of our Web site.