Friday, April 16, 2010

Evaluating Financial Aid Offers

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These last few days, I have been receiving calls from families to help them compare aid offers. You have to get out your calculator and do the math. The offers are not always easy to compare because colleges sometimes use different terms for types of aid and they don't publish the college's cost of attendance (COA) on the letter. So, you must go back to the literature or to the college website to find that cost of attendance figure. COA is a key number to keep in mind.

Here are the things that families need to think about when comparing offers.

1. Is this college a good academic and social fit?
If it is a poor fit then it is a poor deal no matter how good the financial aid package.

2. Does the offer apply to all four years?
Some colleges sweeten the pot for the first year only.

3. What amount remains for the family to pay in cash and in loans? This amount is the cost of attendance (tuition + fees + room/board) - (sum of all grants).

3. Will outside awards apply to the family contribution or only the student's?

4. How much work study is offered?

5. How much will it cost to travel to and from the college?
This can be significant when you add in holiday and summer breaks

Don't accept a college's aid offer with the expectation of re-negotiating next year.
Remember, that colleges allocate a certain amount of aid per incoming class. This means that it is very difficult to get more aid for a sophomore unless you have had a dramatic misfortune such as a job loss or a death in the family.

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