5 Numbers to Check to Compare Financial Aid Awards

"After the initial celebration of receiving college acceptance letters, it’s time to dig into the hard – and sometimes confusing – work of comparing financial aid packages," according to U.S. News & World Report.
 
"As students pore over their financial aid award letters, there are some key figures to use to make a fair comparison. And while sometimes these numbers are itemized clearly on the letter, other times students may need to do the math. ...
 
Consider these five important numbers.
 
1. Cost of attendance: The cost of attendance, or cost of education, for one year is a key starting point when comparing financial aid packages. Most schools will include it on the financial aid award letter, but some will not, and then it’s up to families to pull that figure from the college’s website or another resource.
 
'Sometimes people focus on total dollars in the aid package and don’t take into account the differences in the cost from school to school,' says Karen McCarthy, director of policy analysis for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. ...
 
2. Free money: How much free money a student can receive is also a crucial figure. While some schools will break this out under a heading, sometimes calling it 'gift aid,' others won’t. ...
 
'You have to pay attention to the names,' McCarthy says. 'Is this a loan or is this a grant? It’s really important to make that distinction between gift aid and non-gift aid.' ...
 
3. Net cost: The net cost is the cost to attend minus any gift aid – but this number will not necessarily be on the letter, so you may need to calculate it on your own. ...
 
4. Work-study: Work-study – a federal program that allows students to work while in school – could vary between institutions. Some institutions may receive more funds than another, and the way the school decides to award the funds may differ.
 
'The same student could end up with $1,000 in work study at one school and $3,000 at another one,' McCarthy says. ...
 
5. Gaps or unmet need: Unmet need is anything you will owe after you’ve received all your grants and loans. This is also something that may not be on the financial aid award letter.
 
'That could be covered by a payment plan at the institution, or if the student is a dependent student, a parent loan might help to fill that gap,' McCarthy says. 'But if there’s a gap there, you’ll want to pay attention to what are the options for filling that.'"
 
NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

 

Publication Date: 4/13/2017

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