Financial Aid: How to Compare Offers

Lesley Klecan
Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to college! With any luck, you have more than one option. Now it is time to look at the real cost at each school. Here are 4 tips:
Do the Math
Once you have all of your offers, do the math. See what the net cost is WITHOUT LOANS. Remember to include housing, transportation, and living expenses. (This includes a winter wardrobe for cold weather climates.) Sometimes there is a surprising difference between college offers.
Understand the Aid
Grants and scholarships are free money. They do not have to be paid back.
Work Study is earned money. The amount offered is often the maximum amount you may receive. I suggest NOT counting this when you do the math. Rather, you can work and earn money for incidentals.
Loans are borrowed money. You do NOT have to accept the loans that are offered. If you do want to accept loans, wait until the last possible moment to take one out. You will be paying back the loans with interest.
Unsubsidized loans start accruing interest the day you take them out.
Subsidized loans waive your interest until you are no longer a full time student.
Regardless, you must start paying off loans within six months of no longer being a full time student.

Ask for Help
You can chat with your college counselor or call the financial aid office at each college. We are all here to help you figure it out.
You CAN Appeal the Offer
The financial aid office will consider an appeal IF your circumstances have changed. Call them and ask what you should do. Admissions offices sometimes have a little wiggle room on scholarship dollars (particularly at private colleges). If your circumstances are accurately reflected on your FAFSA, try calling the admissions office and ask about other scholarships for which you may be eligible. It doesn’t hurt to ask! Again, your college counselor can help you practice this!

There are many excellent resources out there to help you understand the process. See this one for a solid explanation and links to comparison tools.