As your financial aid offers start coming in, you and your parents may be a little confused. The differing formats and terminology may seem like you’re being asked to compare apples with oranges.
Buffy Tanner, a counselor with the BOLD (Bachelor’s through Online and Local Degrees) program at Shasta College, has some helpful advice. (She was formerly part of the College OPTIONS organization, which has a mission to strengthen the college-going culture in the more rural areas of northern California by increasing opportunities for students to pursue and become informed about postsecondary education).
- Personal Expenses
Tanner also says, “Students need to realize that the Cost of Attendance published by each school is an AVERAGE, ESTIMATED cost. For some students, transportation costs may be more or less, they can save money by tripling up in a dorm, or by living at home, etc. As much as possible, they should personalize that Cost of Attendance for each college to determine what they will REALLY need.”
The College OPTIONS organization has developed a Financial Aid Offer Comparison Worksheet that can help you evaluate financial aid offers. In this Excel document you can insert the numbers of each type of aid from a college (and then the next college and the next), so as to get an actual “apples to apples” comparison (instead of apples to alligators). This tool is online: http://www.collegeoptions.org/#!financial-aid/c8k2. (See the middle column “Tools for Award Letters” — the last bullet. There is also a link for instructions on how to use the tool.)
“There are MANY roads from point A to point B,” Tanner notes. “Some are more scenic than others, others are quicker, still others have hidden gems along the way that they don’t even know about.”
In any case, do not make rash decisions based on a quick glance of the financial aid offers. Weigh your options carefully and make sure any decision is done with the help of your parents.