If you applied for financial aid using the FAFSA or CSS PROFILE you will receive a financial aid award letter from the colleges you listed if you are accepted. Your award letter will often arrive at the same time as the offer of admission, although it can also come later.
In most cases, you can expect to get a mix of scholarships, grants, loans and work study to cover your college costs. Only a very small percentage of students receive a full-ride scholarship. Financial aid can be awarded based on financial need, academic or other merit, and/or how desirable a student is to the institution.
Here are five tips to review those awards to ensure you find the best offer. Financial aid award letters are not uniformed, so you'll have to review them carefully. Here are some tips to review your financial aid award.
1. Find Your Full Cost of Attendance
First, you want to find out the full cost of attending the college. If this information is not available on your award, you should contact your Financial Aid Office.
The cost of attendance includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, travel and personal expenses for one school year.
2. Find Out How Much of the Award is Free Money
Second, you need to determine the total value of all scholarships and grants (free money) you are being awarded. The more free money you get, the lower your out-of-pocket costs.
Keep in mind, most colleges will expect you to report any outside scholarships. This could affect your overall award. Look into your school's financial aid policy.
3. Find Out if Your Scholarship is Renewable
Third, find out if the scholarship is renewable beyond freshman year.
Sadly, some colleges will entice you with a generous one-time scholarship but then leave you hanging for subsequent years. Find out if the scholarship is renewable and what the renewal requirements are.
For instance, do you have to earn a certain GPA or remain in full-time status? Many colleges require a minimum cumulative GPA even for scholarships awarded on the basis of financial need.
4. Figure Out Your Net Price
Fourth, to find the most affordable college on your list, find your net price (or net cost) for each college. Your net price is the amount you will pay after scholarships and grants are factored in.
To find your net price, deduct the scholarships and grants in your award from your Cost of Attendance. This amount will quickly make it apparent if you can afford the college or whether you need to look elsewhere. This is ultimately a personal decision, but one that should not be taken lightly.
If you are going to take out student loans to fund part of your education, you must decide how much you want to borrow. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends that you "try not to accumulate more total student debt than you expect to earn as a starting annual salary when you leave school".
5. Accept Or Decline Awards
Finally, you will need to accept of decline the award. You can also decline parts of the award if, for example, you do not want to take out all the loans they offer.
Your award will be itemized by category: scholarship, grant, loan and work-study. Once you decide on the right college, you must accept some, all or none of the financial aid offered.
Whatever you do, don’t feel obligated to accept every (or any) loan a college offers. If you goal is to graduate college with little or no debt.
Additionally, you might be able to appeal your financial aid award. If your family's financial circumstances (for e.g., job loss) have changed since you submitted the FAFSA, you should appeal your award. In most cases, the financial aid office will request supporting documents to support this change. The financial aid office will let you know what documents will satisfy this requirement.
In the final analysis, it is up to you to figure out the college you can afford.
Remember, take time to review your offers to ensure you are comparing apple to apple. And don’t over-borrow just to attend your "dream school". Instead, you may want to consider more affordable colleges to keep your debt manageable.