How to Make Sense of a College Financial Aid Package

"There's been a lot of drama this spring for families seeking college financial aid. The trouble stems from a revamp of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, where changes and technology glitches have been an ongoing source of frustration for families," The Star Tribune reports.

... "The goal is to complete a math problem. Subtract the free money from the COA to arrive at what's called the net price, which is the best figure for making comparisons between schools, said Megan Walter, policy analyst for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators."

"The net price is key because it doesn't factor loans or sums earned through work-study arrangements, funds that can add complexity to comparisons while coming with significant asterisks."

"'Any school can look affordable if you're willing to take out a private loan for $30,000,' Walter said. 'But you really should be making a decision comparing the net price of the institution, which is just the free money you have to go toward the direct and indirect costs.'"

... "NASFAA has a free worksheet to help families take numbers from the letters and make comparisons. In general, families need to be cautious, Weaver said, with how the financial aid offers present data."

... "Finally, for students who take on debt, there are issues to consider with various loan packages. And if students go debt-free, families must recognize they'll have to cover the amount listed as loans on the financial aid letter, Tucker said."

"Given all the complexity, 'this year is definitely a time crunch for students and families,' Walter said, considering all the FAFSA delays."

 ... "By early May, the processing delays at the federal government had pretty much resolved, so FAFSA information is now relaying to schools in a timely manner, Walter said. But with all the problems, schools have been running behind as they turn data submissions into aid offers. Among respondents to a late April survey by NASFAA, roughly one-third of four-year public colleges/universities as well as 13% of nonprofit schools said they had not begun packaging aid offers."

"'Usually, the FASFA information comes in over five months to schools so they can spread out the processing,' Walter said via email. 'This is all happening basically in half the time now. There will also be students who are just finding out they need to complete verification, etc., so they won't have complete offers.'"

NASFAA's "Notable Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Articles included under the notable headlines section are not written by NASFAA, but rather by external sources. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.


Publication Date: 5/13/2024

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