So you’ve gotten a couple of award letters and they look pretty good but it’s hard to tell which one is better. Comparing your financial aid offers can be complicated, especially if your awards vary in the type and amount of aid given. The best way to determine the best offer is to do a side-by-side comparison of your aid awards.
The first thing you want to look at is the "Family Share of Costs" figure, which is the amount of money your family will be expected to contribute. Whether it comes from educational savings or private scholarships you’ve earned, this is the overall cost to attend that institution minus the amount of financial aid offered from the school and the government. You and your family are going to need to decide whether this amount is affordable enough to make attending this college a reality.
Another consideration is the quality of the award: the college that gives you the most aid may not have the best award. Your aid amount may be higher because the costs are higher or because the award is mostly loan-based. Review the "Percent of Award that is Gift Aid" and "Percent of Award that is Loan" figures, which explains the quality of your award. The higher the proportion of gift aid (which is free) to loan (which must be repaid), the better the award.
Lastly, you need to consider the overall costs to attend. You may receive what seems to be a great award but in reality it barely covers the cost of an expensive college so make sure you take the total costs into account. Included in this topic are direct and indirect costs, which should have already been determined during the financing conversations you had with your parents. If not, we can help you estimate college costs in order to figure out if this college is affordable based on the award you’re eligible for.
Explore Your Options
After reviewing your awards, you may determine that you’re unable to afford a particular college. If that’s the case and you are really interested in attending that school, contact the aid office for help. There’s no guarantee they can increase the amount but if it makes the college unaffordable for you, it’s worth a try to see if they can improve your package.
One Last Piece of Advice
While it may be tempting to pick the college with the best offer, don’t do it unless you’re convinced that is the best place for you. If you have several offers that are intriguing, you need to take the finances out of the equation and select the best school for your educational and personal goals.