If you haven’t decided which college financial aid package to accept, you haven’t got much time left as most college decision deadlines are May 1. If all other factors are equal among a select number of college choices, the final decision might come down to cost. Here are some tips to help you discover which financial aid package is best:
• Compare Apples to Apples: Don’t just pick the college which offers the most financial aid. Get your calculator out and analyze how much it really costs to attend each school. Be sure you understand whether you will receive the full amount of your award for the entire four years you attend. Reread your financial aid letters and determine how much of each package is in federal student loans. Remember that you will eventually have to repay that money, so it doesn’t really lower your costs; it just defers a part of them.
• Calculate a Bottom Line: See if any schools are expecting you to participate in a work-study program that will provide money, but could reduce the amount of time you have available for your studies. List out everything you will have to spend money on including tuition, room and board, fees, travel expenses, and cost of living at each college. Then subtract out the grants and scholarships from individual schools, along with any scholarships you won on your own, for a bottom line net cost figure. You will be expected to pay for anything that is not covered by financial aid or federal student loans. You may decide to use private lenders, such as Discover Student Loans, to help bridge this final financial gap.
• Contact When Appropriate: If the bottom line is very close between two schools, but the one you are leaning towards will cost a bit more, consider contacting the financial aid office. Politely explain your situation, tell the school how much of a difference there is between your two top choices, and ask if there is anything else they can do to help you. If they can’t, you will have to decide if it is worth the extra expense to attend this college.
• Consider Earnings Potential: If you have to take out federal or private student loans to attend a particular school, it may be worth the extra investment if you are able to graduate in four years and land a high-paying job. Check the schools’ websites to compare details about graduation rates, employment percentages, and starting salaries.
Another potential indicator of a college’s success at turning out viable job candidates is their student loan default rate. Visit College Navigator and type in the name of a potential school. Hit “Show Results” and scroll to the bottom of the list to find something called “cohort default rates.” A high default rate may suggest graduates having trouble finding adequate employment upon graduation.
You are almost to the finish line – good luck and keep up the great work!