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Comparing Financial Aid Offers

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Comparing Financial Aid OffersSpring has officially arrived, and the days are getting longer. Your time to make final college decisions, however, is getting very short. Those students who did not accept an early decision or early action admission offer usually have until around May 1 to make up their mind on which college to attend.

One big factor which will definitely play a major role in this choice is money. Your family needs to balance what you hope to get out of attending a particular college against the cost of going there. If money turns out to be the deciding factor between two solid choices, then you need to take a really good look at the financial aid offers as a tie-breaker. Here are some points to keep in mind:

      • Figure Out Your Net Price at Each College: Find the cost of attendance on each aid offer, or look on the college website. Make sure the Net Price includes all amounts you will pay to the school directly, as well as other costs (such as living expenses, books and supplies, and transportation). Subtract any grant and scholarship offers from that figure. The remaining amount is your net price, or out-of-pocket cost that will have to come from loans or your savings.
      • Look for Qualifiers: Make sure all grants and scholarships listed are available for the full time of enrollment, as long as you meet qualifications. Some funds might only be available for one year, which will affect your net price in the following years.
      • Compare Debt Amounts: Financial aid offers usually include federal student loan eligibility. This is money you will be expected to repay in the future. If the financial aid offer includes a substantial debt amount, you will have to look closely at future earning potential to determine how much of a burden repayment will be.
      • Consider Earning Potential: Your student might be able to work during the college term to earn additional money towards expenses. Some financial aid offers include federal work-study opportunities as part of the package. If a work-study job is not available, look at potential off-campus job opportunities to determine whether they can provide a sufficient source of income. Take into consideration any additional expenses incurred to travel to other jobs.
      • Keep Looking for Scholarships: If the cost difference between two prime options is minimal, your student might be able to qualify for scholarships that can fill the gap. Look at local community organizations, or scholarships in your student’s area of interest. Some have later deadlines, and may still be open. Another possibility is to look for scholarships that apply to students already in college. You may be able to cover the costs for the freshman year, and qualify for a scholarship in the following years.

If the numbers don’t add up at one particular college, there may still be time to file an appeal or provide additional documentation. Act promptly, though, as this is a very busy time for the financial aid offices. You also still need to leave yourself sufficient time to accept an admissions offer from another college.

The challenge now is that time is running short, but you definitely don’t want to make a rash decision that could negatively affect your financial situation. Try to find a quiet few hours to sit and really just run the numbers before making that final determination. You can put together a worksheet to compare expenses for each choice and income potential. Discuss with your student the need to address this choice as a family, and make sure everyone has a say in deciding which financial aid offer makes the most sense.

Remember that CFAA helps with every step of the financial aid process, from completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile to comparing financial aid offers and making the best choice for your family. Set up a CFAA new client free strategy session or a 15 Minute Power Chat to learn more about finding ways to pay for college. To get the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.

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