What Families Need to Know to Compare Financial-Aid Packages

"Applying to college can be an arduous process. But perhaps what's even more difficult is deciphering financial-aid offers. That's because there is no universally adopted standard format for award letters (although there are efforts under way to make this a reality), and there can be lots of confusing terms and unfamiliar concepts for people to digest. With May 1—college decision day—just around the corner, here's what students and families need to know to make informed choices about financial-aid offers," The Wall Street Journal reports.

"... 3. Make apples-to-apples comparisons

Because aid letters often lack uniformity, families may struggle to compare one school's financial package with another's. To make that process easier, the College Board offers a financial-aid comparison tool at bigfuture.org. Under the 'Pay for College' heading, click on 'Tools & Calculators.' Then click on 'Compare Your Aid Awards.' Families can enter details on aid packages for as many as four schools at a time. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators also has an award-letter comparison worksheet, available at nasfaa.org. If families prefer, they can create their own spreadsheet, listing each component of aid separately so they can compare the offers side by side, says Ms. Roberts of Sallie Mae.

Susan S. McCrackin, senior director of financial-aid methodology enrollment at the College Board, says it's important that families look beyond the total value of aid being offered. 'You have to look at the details and not be swayed by the total' amount of the aid package, she says. One aid package may appear higher than another because the award is mostly loan-based, but that isn't necessarily the better deal. The 'highest figure is not always the best figure,' she says.

While many students borrow to pay for college, experts warn against piling up too much debt. Before choosing a school, students should think carefully about what kind of debt load they want upon graduation, their chosen profession and how student-loan payments will factor into their budget, says Ms. Roberts."

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: 3/5/2018

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