A step-by-step guide to help you compare financial aid offers

Now that college aid packages are trickling in, you might notice aid packages vary from school to school. That’s because the cost of attending each school and what factors go into your qualifications vary. 

When it comes to choosing where you’ll spend the next few years, knowing the difference in aid packages is a huge help. Here’s how to make the right choice for you.

Step One: Read Your Aid Award Letters

Once you get all your Aid Award Letters, you’ll want to read through them carefully. Pay attention to the eligibility factors, net price, and gift aid amounts.

Your gift aid compared to the net price is where you’ll need to focus when making your decision. 

Step Two: The Net Price

Your aid award letter will tell you your Cost of Attendance (CoA). If you do not see the CoA on your letter, contact your school to get that information. 

CoA usually includes everything from tuition and fees to on-campus living expenses, books, and some supplies. Double-check what is included, so you have a clear understanding of what you’re paying for and what you’re not.

Step Three: Determine Your “Gift Aid” 

Your Gift Aid is anything you don’t have to pay back. That includes Grants, Scholarships, and in some cases, work-study. If you have additional money, like gifts from family members or your own savings, include that in the gift aid amount.

Please note, student loans are NOT considered gift aid. These will likely be included on your Award Letter, but don’t factor them into this amount.

Step Four: Subtract Your Gift Aid from Your CoA

Now that you have both your CoA and your gift aid, you want to subtract the gift aid from your CoA. 

With that amount subtracted, you’ll know what your net cost (or out of pocket cost) is to attend each of the schools. Your out of pocket cost needs to be covered by the cash you have on hand, student loans, or other funds you’ve come up with to help pay for college. 

Now that you know your net cost, you’ll understand what you need to come up with to pay for each school and make the decision that best suits you.

Don’t forget, you can take out student loans, but that amount will be paid back over time with interest. If you can lower the debt you take out, that’s probably the best choice for your financial future.