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What to Keep in Mind When Comparing Financial Aid Offers from Your Top Colleges

Tips for comparing financial aid offers between colleges shared by college financial aid advisor Jodi Okun
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As spring blooms around us, college acceptance letters and financial aid offers are beginning to arrive for students who didn’t apply for early admission at their colleges of choice. It’s such an exciting – and stressful – time as students make their final decisions about where to spend the next four years of their lives. One major factor in their decisions will be money. Paying for college is a huge and important part of deciding where to attend college. 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 when comparing colleges

Figure Out Your Net Price of Attendance

Find the cost of attendance on each aid offer, or look on the college website for the true cost of attendance. Make sure that what you’re looking at 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 you’ve received 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. Compare these numbers between schools to see which is a better financial fit. 

Look for Qualifiers on Money You’re Receiving

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. If there are qualifiers you have to meet each year, make sure those are crystal clear. This could include GPA, credit hours, or other criteria. 

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. It’s also important to discuss how much of that loan you or your family will pay back post graduation. 

Can you make money?

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 too. While getting a job in college can be a great way to limit how much money you need from loans, it will impact your student’s schedule – so think about it carefully! 

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. Remember to look for scholarships every year your student is enrolled to cover gaps! 

If the numbers don’t add up at one particular college, there may still be time to file an appeal or provide additional documentation. If you plan to file for an appeal, follow the school’s directions and be patient with the financial aid offers. This year has been particularly grueling on families and financial aid offices alike, so it’s important to be polite and respectful. The window of time to make a decision about where to go to school is closing, but you don’t want to make a rash decision. Set time aside to carefully review your offers and feel confident about your choice – now and in the future. 

More about Jodi and College Financial Aid Advisors

Jodi is a FAFSA financial advisor who helps with the financial aid process to help families of college students maximize their financial aid. From completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile to reviewing the SAR, responding to requests for verification, comparing financial aid offers and understanding student loan options, Jodi is a fantastic resource when it comes to student financial aid. Schedule a 15 Minute Power Chat to learn more about finding ways to pay for college.

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