How to Compare College Aid Offers Between Schools

While each school listed on your FAFSA® will be compiling your financial aid offer based on the same information, not all financial aid offers are created equally. Compare the key components of each financial aid award letter to determine which school is making you the best offer.

Determine the Cost of Attendance for Each Institution

Each school lists their “Cost of Attendance” on a student’s financial aid award letter, but it’s important to make sure that’s the full cost of attendance. Some schools will omit certain necessities such as room and board.

If you don’t see something listed on your award letter, contact your school’s financial aid office to verify that it is included in the quoted cost of attendance.

Determine “Net Cost” for Each School

The net cost for each school is the “Cost of Attendance” minus the total they are offering you in gift aid – grants and scholarships. Once you subtract the gift aid from the cost of attendance, you will know how much you’ll have to pay towards the cost of your education, either now or in the future if you’re taking on loans.

Determining the net cost for each school will give you a good baseline from which to compare each school’s financial aid offer.

How much in loans?

Once you’ve determined the net cost for each school, compare the amount each school is offering you in loans. When comparing loans, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do the loans cover the rest of your financial need?
  2. Are you comfortable taking on that amount in loans knowing you will have to pay them back once you’re out of school?

Loans will cover your immediate financial need, but you will need to repay them once you’re done with school. That’s an important factor when considering the true cost of each school to which you’ve applied.

Discover any Gapping

When a school leaves a gap between your determined financial need and the amount they are offering you in financial aid, it’s called “gapping”. That gap, regardless of amount, can create a hefty burden on a student and his or her family.

Remember, your financial need is determined by what the FSA has calculated through your FAFSA® that you and your family are able to pay. Paying anything more out of pocket may prove challenging.

Taking on private loans or a part-time job can help you cover that gap, but that’s another burden your school is placing on you.

Choosing a School

The factors above will determine which school is offering you the best financial aid package. Still, there are plenty of factors that go into choosing a school, such as academic programs, location, and greek life. Weighing all these factors will help you find the right school for you.