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“I just got my financial aid package and don’t know what to make of it. What are some terms I should know, things I should look for, or tips and tricks to maximize my aid?” – Mary S., Boston, MA
A: Be sure you’re comparing apples to apples!
Analyze the award letters carefully, and figure out how much is being offered in grants and scholarships (the money that won’t need to be paid back) and how much represents loans. Don’t count the work-study in your calculations. Know what the total cost of attendance is at each school (not just tuition); also determine whether grants and scholarships are renewable for four years, or only offered to freshmen. Call the financial aid office if the terms of the offer are unclear, and then focus on the bottom line: how much will each college cost you and your parents out-of-pocket?
- Marilyn Morrison – Founder, Morrison Educational Consulting
A: All financial aid packages are not equal. Persistence pays off!
The most affordable college may not be the best school for you. You should make a worksheet with columns and fill in the details from each financial aid package you receive. Consider the cost of attendance and which colleges offer the most federal grants and school scholarships. This is preferable to receiving college loans which need to be repaid. Also check the interest rates for any loans and the repayment policies. If you receive less financial aid from a school you really want to attend, contact them and ask whether they can match an offer from another college.
- Susie Watts – College Consultant, College Direction
A: Evaluate the Net Cost of Attending College.
Financial Aid awards are based on your EFC (Expected Financial Contribution). It is imperative that you evaluate your financial aid packages from the various schools. It is important to prepare a chart to evaluate the Net Cost of the schools you are considering. Take the school’s Cost of Attendance and subtract free money, including Scholarship/Grants and Need-Based Aid. You will then arrive at your Net Cost which you can compare with the Net Cost of the other schools you are considering. Then you can take into account the parent’s and student’s loans which must be paid back. Remember, you may appeal the decision if you clearly explain your circumstances such as unusual medical bills.
- Rachelle Wolosoff – Founder, CollegeSearchExpert.com
Don’t miss answers by the Dean of Admissions at University of Illinois, VP of The College Board, and more – at www.unigo.com/expertnetwork. To send your question to our experts, visit www.unigo.com/expertquestions