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Archive for April, 2014

April 1 marks the height of decision season for colleges nationwide, a date by which high school seniors will learn whether they’ll be joining the incoming freshmen class. It is also the time of year when students can expect to receive financial aid award letters/notifications from the colleges.

When you get that award letter, it’s easy to jump right to the line that tells you exactly how much aid you are receiving. But don’t be fooled; all financial aid is not equal. Be sure you know exactly what types of aid are being offered. Is it a grant or scholarship (which doesn’t have to be repaid), a work-study offer (which requires time spent at a job), or a loan (which will have to be repaid), or a combination? You should also be on the lookout for aid requirements, such as maintaining a certain GPA or studying a particular subject.  If loans are included, be sure you know the terms (e.g., interest rates, repayment options) of the loans and that you are comfortable with your total projected debt by the time you complete your degree.

It might be difficult for you to compare awards from different institutions to make sure you are getting the best deal. If you need assistance interpreting and comparing financial aid award letters, check out FinAid.org’s Guide to Financial Aid Award Letters. It includes a discussion of net cost and out-of-pocket cost, a summary of problems and pitfalls with financial aid award letters, a list of questions to ask college financial aid administrators, and a glossary of common terms used on financial aid award letters. Comparisons are getting easier as many institutions are now converting to a standardized form recommended by the U.S. Department of Education known as the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

Contact the institution’s financial aid office if you have any questions.

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