What Do Students Know About Financial Aid?

Dec 19, 2016
Case Study, Paying for College, Research, Student Loans


Catching up on some reading over this break. Enjoying Sarah Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price which tracks six students in Wisconsin over six years and chronicles their triumphs and struggles in finding their way through college. She had a chart on page 56 that I found informative in highlighting what students know and don’t know about financial aid.

Here’s what the 2,100 students participating in the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study (WSLS) who answered their first-year survey knew about financial aid (number is parens is percentage who responded correctly):

  • Knew difference between grant and loan   (93%)
  • Knew that financial aid package might change from year to year (88%)
  • Knew that financial aid package might change if student takes time off from school (82%)
  • Knew that government loan is a kind of financial aid (81%)
  • Knew that financial aid package might change if a student transfers schools (81%)
  • Knew that student earning more than a certain amount of money will reduce financial aid package (74%)
  • Knew difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loan (68%)
  • Knew that money a student earns from working during college is used in financial aid calculation (58%)

There are a good set of facts for students to know, for sure. My hunch is these were a series of True/False questions that the students answered. I wish they had also asked a multiple choice question asking the students what the monthly student loan repayment would be, for those who took out student loans. My guess is that the correct responses would be much lower.


Check out the NGPF Case Study: What College Should I Attend? to help your students overcome misconceptions about choosing and paying for a college education.

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.