As you evaluate your admissions choices, financial aid may be a critical component in your decision making process. Comparing your aid packages can be challenging as there is no one set format and language is not uniform from one school to another. Please know, all financial aid packages are not equal.
You need to carefully review your packages to determine which school offers the most favorable arrangement. One aid package may appear very attractive upon first glance, but a more careful analysis may reveal another offer to be more favorable. Your overall cost of attending college includes tuition, room and board, fees, books, living expenses and transportation. Health insurance fees also need to be considered. Depending on your course of study, you may have additional expenses such as lab fees or art supplies.
There are many tools available to help you review your aid offers. You’ll find a worksheet in Chapter 6 of The College Bound Organizer which allows you to compare packages. Another resource is The U.S. Department of Education’s Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. College Board offers an interactive aid calculator on their website as well.
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, reach out to your guidance counselor, or 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.
Make sure you understand your options, please 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.