How to Compare Financial Aid Award Letters
For most students, the cost of college will factor into the decision about where to attend. Find out what you need to know about comparing financial aid award letters.
Wait for your financial aid award letters.
If you applied for financial aid, each college will let you know the amount, type and source of money you are eligible to receive. This is also called your financial aid package. Most colleges will send out a letter (or an e-mail) shortly after they send an acceptance letter, which is often late March or early April.
Consider all the costs.
The cost of college is more than just tuition. Keep in mind the cost for housing, transportation, and other costs. Some financial aid award letters will give you information about the cost, including estimates for these other expenses. Others might not, so you will need to find that information on the college’s website or a site like Big Future.
Calculate what you will actually pay.
Break out the calculator! Don’t focus on the sticker price of a college or the amount of financial aid a college offers. What matters is the out-of-pocket cost — what you will actually pay. Use our Comparing Costs & Financial Aid worksheet (also available as a Google Doc) to help you compare.
Pay attention to the type of aid.
Not all financial aid is created equal. Gift aid, such as grants and scholarships, does not need to be paid back. Loans do! Know that you don’t have to accept all of the loans that are offered to you.
Financial aid award letters can be very confusing. Ask for help from a counselor, trusted adult or the college’s financial aid office.
Make your decision.
Consider more than just what you will pay for college. Choose a college that is a good fit for you academically, socially AND financially. Use our Making Your College Decision worksheet to help you compare your choices.
Follow up to make sure you receive aid.
Once you have a made a decision about where you plan to attend college, you need to notify the college. You may also need to complete additional paperwork to accept your financial aid package. You should also notify the colleges you will not attend.