12th Grade

Calculating the Bottom Dollar

You’ve filed your taxes, submitted the FAFSA, and now it’s a waiting game. Colleges send award letters sometime in the late spring and summer, at which point families get an idea of the bottom dollar for their student’s education.

This is where all that work on tests and scholarships proves itself fruitful! Each college will send a financial aid award letter detailing the scholarships, grants, and loans for which a student is eligible. Some of amounts are federal financial aid (Stafford loans, Pell grant), some may be state aid (state grants or awards), institutional scholarships (academic awards, athletic scholarships), or scholarships received from outside organizations through scholarship searching. If you’ve sent in all the required paperwork, the financial aid award letter should look like a math equation: the total cost of tuition, room and board minus your financial aid, with the total due at the bottom.

Comparing Financial Aid Letters

You won’t receive the same amount of aid from every college. Private colleges tend to be more expensive than public universities, and scholarships are very competitive. Don’t be surprised if you see significant differences between the financial aid letters you receive from the colleges you’re considering.

As you compare the letters, think about 1) your priorities; which school best fits student and parent goals? Think about 2) investment; if the school will cost more than anticipated, will there be a good potential return on this investment? Does your major of study/future career path provide means to pay back any loans you may need to take out? And 3), could a summer job pay for any extra costs listed on the letter?

Net Calculators and the Real Ticket Cost

Perhaps you haven’t received any letters yet. Instead, you’ve been on the college website using their online net cost calculator. While this tool is helpful, it can’t be 100% accurate. Rates and fees change every year, as can the cost of tuition, so net calculators must be kept up to date to remain accurate. Additionally, they can’t take into account all aid and scholarships you may have available to you. It is best to submit the FAFSA and appropriate documents to the college’s financial aid office so you can get an accurate picture of final cost.

Making Up the Difference

If your aid letter has arrived but you’re still struggling to make ends meet, consider deferring admission by a semester or year. This gives students time to earn the money for room, board, or books – areas not always covered by financial aid.

As always, continue scholarship searching and applying! You can apply for scholarships before and during college.

Questions? Email [email protected].