Understanding Financial Aid Packages
So in summary to date….
1. You have applied to college 2. You have done your FAFSA and your FFAA registration (PLEASE make sure that there are no errors or issues with your Student Aid Report – SAR. 3. You are now waiting to be accepted OR have already been accepted. NOW
1. You need to wait to receive your college “Financial Aid Award Letter” (See some sample Award Letter below) 2. Please read the short article below to understand how you should evaluate the award letter that you receive and then make the final decision on which college you will attend.
If this is not you ???? Please make your way to my office to discuss your status.
By: Rachel Fishman is a policy analyst for the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. (with some editing) Source: www.firstgenerationstudent.com/pay/understanding-financial-aid-packages/
After you’ve been accepted to a college and completed the financial aid application (FAFSA) process, that college will send you a financial aid package. So if you are accepted to three different colleges, and applied for financial aid at all of them, you will receive three separate financial aid packages. The question is, which one is best for you?
Each package will look different. Most financial aid packages will detail the Cost of Attendance for that college. After that they will detail how much they will offer you in Scholarship $ (performance = grades/test scores/athletics/ etc…) and Financial Aid $ (income/need based = grants, loans and work-study).
Here are some tips that will help you understand your financial aid awards:
Find the Full Cost of Attendance for the School
The Cost of Attendance will vary depending on your situation but usually contains tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. These are all budgetary estimates by the college of how much you will spend for your time in college that academic year. Depending on your needs, there are some cases where you may need more money and some cases where you may need less.
Add up All the Free Money (grants and scholarships)
Remember, grants and scholarships are gift aid that you don’t have to pay back, so first you’ll want to add that money up. For example, if you see the word Pell, then that’s a federal grant that the government gives you that you won’t have to pay back. If you are unsure whether something is a grant, scholarship or loan, call the financial aid office.
Subtract the Free Money from Your Cost of Attendance
Before you even look at your loan options, make sure you do this step! This will give you a rough idea of what you will need to pay for the academic year. You may have loans to help you cover those upfront costs, but remember you’ll have to pay back those loans eventually so it really is an expense.
HINT: Now is a good time to review your Cost of Attendance and try to come up with your own budget. For example, are you staying at home while going to college? If so, will you be in charge of paying for your expenses at home? If not, you may not need to borrow as much money.
Consider All the Self-Help Aid (loans and work-study)
Self-help aid includes loans and work-study. Loans will help pay for your tuition bill right away, whereas with work-study you’ll have to work in specific jobs during the school year to earn that money (learn more about different types of aid). The federal loans available may include the Perkins loan, Federal Unsubsidized Stafford, Federal Subsidized Stafford or Parent PLUS loans. Now that you have a better idea of your budget and how much you may still need to pay, you should be more aware of how much in loans you may need to take out.
IMPORTANT: The amount of loans on your financial aid award package is the full amount you are eligible for. You do not need to take out these loans in full. If you think you need less money, follow the directions on the package to decline the full amount and indicate the lower amount you need instead.
HINT: Not all federal loans are created equal. Some have more flexible terms than others. It’s recommended that you exhaust your loans in this order: Perkins, Stafford Subsidized, Stafford Unsubsidized. Only as a last resort should you consider a private loan or a federal Parent PLUS loan. These loans have less generous terms, and your parents will most likely have to undergo a credit check to take one out. Be sure to read more about federal loans at the Federal Student Aid’s website.
Understand What You Will Owe
You already know that you’ll have to pay back any loans. But make sure you understand your budget and whether you are completely covered for the year. Most colleges won’t be able to meet the full amount you need so be aware if you need to seek out any other financing options.
IMPORTANT: You and your family can seek other financing options like private loans and Parent PLUS loans. Call your financial aid office for more details. Just remember, you will have to pay back those loans, so make sure you are comfortable taking on that debt.
Remember, if you have any questions about your financial aid or if your financial situation has changed, it’s important to talk to someone in the financial aid office. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has a financial aid award comparison tool available on its website here.
SAMPLE AWARD LETTERS