Choosing a College Based on Financial Aid Comparisons

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One of the advantages of the early FAFSA is that it is supposed to bring financial aid notifications more in line with college acceptances. The intent is to provide students and parents with more information on which to base an objective decision. Now that it is December, we will be testing the truth of this premise. While many colleges have stated that they will be sending out financial aid award letters at least two to eight weeks earlier than they did in previous years, others have not given any insights into their estimated timeframes.

Unless you have applied for an early decision admission, try to wait until all award letters arrive so you can make the most informed decision possible. If you are lucky enough to have all the information in hand, here is what you need to do next:

• Understand the full cost of attending each college: Basic cost information like tuition, room and board, fees, and books should be available on each college’s website, but don’t just stop there. Think about other costs you might incur like travel and transportation, off-campus living, entertainment, and other expenses associated with attending each specific college. Then find out if most students graduate in four or five years. Add a little bit each year to allow for increased costs, and multiply that times the number of years to come up with a total cost figure.

• Know what your financial aid includes: Look closely at your financial aid award letters. Anything that is listed as a grant or scholarship will not have to be repaid. Make sure any awards of this type are for the full duration of your enrollment, and not just a year or two. Your award letter might list a work-study benefit, but be aware that you will be required to work to obtain this money. Add up any scholarships you have received from other sources, and subtract these from the costs you calculated. This will give you an idea of how much money you will be expected to contribute towards your education. Your award letter may list subsidized and unsubsidized loans, or PLUS loans, as part of your package, but this is money you are borrowing and will need to repay after graduation.

• Be sure you can repay what you borrow: Calculate your loans over four or five year to determine how much you will need to borrow. Then review how much money the average graduate earns from each institution to determine if you can realistically repay those loans.

For more information on projecting college costs, schedule a free strategy session with College Financial Aid Advisors now!

Get more information on financial aid: My book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro, makes a great holiday gift! You’ll find information on financial planning, the FAFSA and CSS/PROFILE, award letters, finding scholarships, and comparing student loan options. Order it now, and get the information you need to successfully navigate the financial aid journey.

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