You’ve been admitted to college and now it’s time to evaluate your financial aid options. Financial aid may be a critical component in your decision making process so make sure you understand your offers fully, as all financial aid packages are not equal.
Carefully review your offers to determine which school is giving you the best combination of terms. One aid package may appear very attractive upon first glance, but a more careful look may reveal another offer to be better for you and your family. Don’t forget to take into account that the overall cost of attending college includes many components: tuition, room and board, fees, books, living expenses and transportation. Health insurance fees also need to be considered. Depending on your classes, you may have additional expenses such as lab fees or art supplies.
There are many tools available to help you review your aid offers:
• The worksheet in Chapter 6 of The College Bound Organizer allows you to easily compare packages.
• The U.S. Department of Education offers a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.
• College Board has an interactive tool to compare your aid awards.
• College Abacus allows students to compare the net price of nearly 4,000 colleges.
Identify which components are gift aid, including scholarships and grants which do not require repayment. Grants and scholarships may be offered for only freshman year or may require you maintain specific academic standards to qualify for renewal. Merit aid may also be a one time gift or may demand you meet specified criteria in future years. Know which aspects of your package are loans and will, therefore, require repayment. When comparing packages, it’s also essential to take into the account the varying loan repayment schedules.
If you don’t understand any details of your offers, ask your guidance counselor for help, or reach out to the college or university’s financial aid office. If your aid package isn’t sufficient, you can appeal to the financial aid office for an additional review. In fact, a surprisingly large percentage of students who appeal to private colleges and universities receive more aid.
Make sure you understand your options and take note of the notification dates and reply-by dates for individual schools. Don’t lose out on an aid opportunity because you missed a response deadline.
Anna Costaras and Gail Liss, are co-authors of The College Bound Organizer, The Ultimate Guide to Successful College Applications and the founders of www.boundtoorganize.com, an online resource for college bound students.