Financial aid packages can be difficult to decipher. They comprise a variety of different elements: both repayable and non-repayable. The largest portion of most financial aid offers are loans, both federally subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while the student is in school so those are more desirable. Students may also be offered grants, scholarships, and an option for on campus work-study. Since these awards are gifts and do not need to be repaid, they are preferable to loans. As a parent, you need to carefully scrutinize all offers and compare them based on a number of key questions:
- Are the scholarships offered for all four years, or just freshman year?
- Are those scholarships dependent on the student maintaining a minimum GPA or course load?
- Will any other scholarships your student has received from outside sources (such as the Rotary Club, Lions Club, etc) be deducted from the college’s financial aid offer?
In order to truly determine what a given school would cost, you must remember to deduct the financial awards from the total cost of attendance to that school. It is not enough to just compare the offers apples to apples as it might ultimately cost less to pay for a school that has offered you less money but has lower overall tuition and fees.
If you feel that a school’s offer does not meet your need, you can call the financial aid office to discuss the possibility of receiving more money. If requested, you can even fax them an award letter from another school, of similar selectivity, and if they want your student to attend, they *may* offer you more money. As quoted in last week’s Wall Street Journal, “‘In a competitive environment where schools are all fighting to get the top students, why not see how bad a school wants him, if it's a school he likes?...If you don't ask, you're not going to get anything.’”