Interpreting Your Financial Aid Award Letter? Your actual out-of-pocket cost is….

How Much Will Your Enrollment Decision Cost ?

Assuming you have completed your comparative analysis of colleges to which you are accepted and narrowed your choice to 2 to 3 universities, it’s time to incorporate financing into the enrollment decision.

Let’s return to financing your first and second choices.  Very few families have the luxury of making the enrollment decision independent of cost.  You may be facing vastly different financial aid packages or perhaps the cost of out-of-state tuition is significantly higher than attendance at your state’s premier four-year college. Such differences are very important to take into consideration and your decision rests on having a very clear understanding of your award letter.

INTERPRET YOUR FINANCIAL AID AWARD LETTER:

Construct a simple spreadsheet looking at the cost of tuition and fees, less the financial aid in your award package. Separate financial aid into categories of 1) institutional and external grants, 2) work study and 3) student loans.

The actual out-of-pocket cost is college tuition less any scholarship grants.

Loans and work study while technically a part of your financial aid award are still money coming out of your wallet!

Your actual living costs are similar across colleges and universities. Do your research to explore whether there are options after the freshman year to find affordable off campus housing as well as a less expensive (mandatory freshman) meal plans.  Look for differences in costs that impact you.  Consider the cost of airfare for schools that are significantly far from home.

In determining the financial aid award package, each college has a “total cost of attendance” value  which includes an allocation for “books/fees” and one for “travel/spending money”.  These amounts vary greatly and it is wise to remove them from your analysis or use the same dollar amount for each college in your spreadsheet.

NEGOTIATE YOUR FINANCIAL AID PACKAGE:

Financial aid is negotiable!  Try this tool to gently encourage colleges to which you’ve been accepted to increase their financial aid package and maybe even enter into a bidding war where you come out on top

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Before placing an admissions deposit, if  you’ve been accepted to “peer” colleges in terms of  academic rankings (try the tool) and if you’ve received a significantly larger financial aid package, this package can be used to  “bargain” to potentially earn more financial aid from a college you prefer to attend. We have experience in helping families negotiate additional amounts.

Take note- be certain to learn whether your financial aid award letter is clear on whether any grants offered are renewable or these grants are one time awards based on your EFC as presented on the student aid report (SAR) of the 2014 FAFSA.  A front-loaded package can be attractive but you may find yourself with a much lower financial aid award in subsequent years.  Do your homework.  As part of your negotiation you’ll want to request consideration for renewable awards.

If you need assistance in interpreting or negotiating your financial aid award letter, we can assist.

Again, congratulations on your acceptances and best wishes for success on the next step of your educational journey!

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