Attorney Kate Cavanaugh-Forte
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College Parents-Decipher Finacial Aid Letters

You’ve received the acceptance letter and the financial aid letter. How to you decide what school offers the best fit and the best aid package. Follow these tips to decipher those Financial Aid Offers.


1) Analyze the components.
Terms aren’t always clear, so start your review by going through the offer line-by-line to determine what’s what. Separate out scholarships and grants, which don’t have to be repaid, from loans that do, Kantrowitz said. That gives you a truer picture of your out-of-pocket costs.

“You may think you have a free ride from this college, when in reality you have a ridiculous amount of loans,” he said.

If you expect your student will receive outside scholarships, ask about the displacement policy, he said. Some colleges use those to offset loans, while others will first use them to offset grant aid from the college. That calculation could make a big difference in comparing offers.

2) Crunch costs.

Check what’s included in the college’s cost estimate, said Kantrowitz. It should include indirect expenses like travel to and from campus and textbooks, as well as tuition, room and board. Fill in the blanks for any missing expenses so you can better compare different colleges’ offers.

Look to see if the college estimates are reasonable, too, based on personal details like your student’s major.

“A single physics or calculus textbook can cost you as much as $250,” he said.

3) Think long term.
“Look at [college cost] from a four-year perspective rather than a one-year perspective,” Fudge said.

The aid package’s addendum typically contains details like whether a scholarship can be renewed in future years, and under what circumstances, he said. That’s also where you’ll find any conditions your student has to meet to keep the aid, like meeting a minimum GPA.

A generous aid package as a freshman doesn’t mean your student will be awarded the same deal as an upperclassman. Depending on the terms, a college offering a smaller amount of annual aid, but as a four-year award, might be the more valuable offer, he said. ( offers breakdowns of average aid for freshmen and for all undergraduate students.)

That multiyear assessment is a better gauge of affordability, Fudge said, and can help you figure out the best plan to pay for college.

4) Ask for more help
If your financial situation has changed since filing for financial aid, consider preparing an appeal to the college. They may be willing to adjust your aid package, Kantrowitz said, although that may simply mean more loans, rather than additional grants.

You might also reach out for a reassessment if one college offers more aid than another. But any bump up in aid resulting from that tactic is typically because the reviewing college realizes it was missing a piece of information about your finances that other colleges had, he said.

“It’s not because of your strong negotiating skills,” Kantrowitz said. “Colleges really aren’t car dealerships, where bluff and bluster can get you a better deal.”

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About the Author Kate Forte

Kate's a practicing Attorney for over 20 years. She is a pet rescuer and a strong supporter of pets Rights. Kate expertise is Real Estate, Probate, Estate Planning, Personal Injury, and Business contracts. Kate is happy to discuss any legal or pet matter you may have and if she cannot help; she is more than happy to point you in the right direction. Kate Forte 17 Good Hill Rd Woodbury Ct 06798 Office 203-598-8847 Fax 203-841-1116

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