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Five Strategies for Reviewing and Comparing Financial Aid Offers

March 10, 2022

It’s that time of year again; financial aid offer season. If you’ve filed your FAFSA and been accepted to college, congratulations! It’s possible that you have already received a financial aid offer or two, and if you haven’t yet, you will soon. Here are five strategies for reviewing and comparing financial aid offers.

1. Read it carefully!

Whether you received a paper financial aid letter, an online version, or both, it is very important to read it closely. Look at each type of aid offered; keep an eye out for words like “grant” and “scholarship”- that means FREE money! See if the notification provides details on the cost to attend, specific scholarship requirements, and next steps. To help understand the items included, you can find a breakdown here.

2. Remember that all offers will look different.

If you have been accepted to more than one college, you should receive a financial aid offer from each school. Each notification will look different, but all have similar “parts” like types of aid, amounts, and next steps. Make note of the differences, but keep in mind that more types of aid listed or larger amounts doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best or most affordable choice. Examine each offer with an ‘apples to oranges’ approach.

3. Do the math!

Since financial aid offers look different, the best way to figure out the bottom line, out-of-pocket cost, is to do the math. If not shown in your financial aid offer, figure out the direct cost to attend (tuition, fees, room and board) and subtract the aid amounts, excluding work-study, from the direct costs. That will give you a good sense of the cost for one year. We’ve created this side-by-side comparison worksheet to make your options more clear. Also, remember to take that bottom line cost and multiply by the number of years you plan to be in school to get a sense of the total cost of your education.

4. Keep up with your email.

If you received a paper financial aid notification, that will likely be the only one from that school. Follow-up communications from the financial aid office, changes to your aid, and next steps typically happen via e-mail and your student portal. It is important to get in the habit of checking your college email account regularly so you don’t miss any important communications.

5. If your income situation changed, file an appeal.

The income information on the FAFSA was from 2019; it is possible that you or your family’s financial circumstances changed in 2020 or may change in 2021. If that is the case, submit an appeal to the financial aid office. Write a letter explaining your circumstances, provide documentation of the changes, and submit any other relevant information to the financial aid office. Use our guide to help you navigate the appeal process, and remember it is always okay to contact the financial aid office and ask them how to appeal.

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