Comparing financial aid: Part 2

12 Mar

After you and your parents figure out your cost of attendance for each college (see the Part 1 blog posted last week about how to whittle down college costs), you should create a chart that shows the various financial aid offered to you by each college.

This list should include the following:

1. Scholarships that you know of so far.

2. Grants (gifts of money that do not need to be repaid), including these: Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, TEACH Grant, Cal Grant (or your state’s grant), and other grants, to include grants from the college.

3. Work study (great opportunity, which I will discuss in a future blog)

4. Loans, to include these: Federal Perkins Loan (best student loan), Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan (good student loan), Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan (not as good student loan), Federal PLUS Loan (loan parents must take out–not such a good option because of repayment requirements), and private loan(s) (your worst option).

The financial aid offers can help you logically determine which college is giving you the best option. One IMPORTANT piece of research to do before deciding is to find out if the scholarships that you obtain on your own will be counted against any scholarships or grants that the college offers you. Some colleges do; some don’t. That issue helped my daughter decide which college to attend, because she received many outside scholarships. If the college will let scholarships cancel out loans rather than grants — that is an important factor for your financial future. Go on each different school’s financial aid website to find out this important info.

NEXT UP: Other considerations to weigh other than financial aid.



Graduates can save a lot of time, money, and heartache by reading this great book written by recent college grads. 

Available for pre-order now for all those you know graduating from high school and college:

How to compare financial aid offers: Part 1

8 Mar

As you are weighing which college to attend, a big consideration can be the various colleges’ financial aid offer. Today we’ll look at Cost of Attendance (COA).

Carefully examine each college’s cost of attendance, which is the list of various fixed and other expenses. Obviously, the tuition is not flexible, but often you can whittle down some of the following expenses:

– Fees (some of those fees are optional such as parking, health services (if you provide proof of health insurance), and some student body fees.

– Books and supplies: Textbooks can now be borrowed from the library, as well as purchased used online (make sure the ISBN is the same).

– Rent/housing: Perhaps you can figure out another option than the dorm, although it’s usually recommended to stay in the dorm the first year so as to make connections and feel a part of the campus life.

– Utilities and cell phone: Be realistic about what these will cost, especially if you will be in an apartment.

– Transportation: I do NOT recommend that a freshman student have a car the first year. Every other person who does not have a car will want to borrow it (a mistake) or ask you for rides. Gas is expensive, as are parking tickets and accidents. Also, a college freshman with a load of kids is a recipe for weekend disaster.

– Clothing and laundry: Could graduation gifts cover these expenses? Find out how much the machines are in the dorm and estimate how much you really will need to do laundry.

– Miscellaneous: The temptation to eat out all the time is great — create a budget item and stick to it.

It may be possible to take a chunk off the college’s estimated Cost of Attendance (COA). Doing that may even eliminate having to take out a student loan or parent loan. Take time to sit down together and make a realistic monthly budget, so that you’re prepared for the coming year.

Coming: Evaluating financial aid offers — including hidden info financial aid offices usually won’t tell you!



A quick solution when you get all those graduation announcements . . .

Coming this April: So much help in one little book for graduating high school and college seniors. 

Pre-order here:



Making the decision

28 Feb

Six of my family–including my husband, daughter, and I–have all graduated from UC Berkeley. The Greek Theatre is an impressive commencement site.

March is when a lot of exciting news comes: acceptances from the more exclusive schools, as well as financial aid offers. Then comes the time when you need to sit down with your parents and create a chart of pros and cons.

These are some factors to consider, as they may be important to you:

  • Location (distance from home, geographical location, city/suburban/rural, the “feel” of the community)
  • Transportation (How will you get there and back home? Related expenses?)
  • Size of the college
  • Reputation of college
  • Strength of the major program (Print out the online catalog pages that describe the major and its courses, so that you can visually compare the offerings.)
  • Study abroad program
  • Academic challenge (Allow yourself to be stretched!)
  • Campus life (Is it vibrant . . . or is it a commuter campus?)
  • Housing options
  • Financial aid offer

If you haven’t visited a campus for a school you’re still considering, spring break is the perfect time! However, even if you can’t, don’t dismiss that school as an option.

My oldest daughter was accepted at all five colleges to which she applied; she decided to go to the one she had NOT visited, because the school offered her a leadership scholarship, and she loved the idea that Biola University already viewed her as a leader. When we drove onto the campus in La Mirada, Orange County, California, for her freshman year, she FREAKED OUT, saying, “I hate this! I hate this!” Nevertheless, a week later she called home: “I love this! I love this!” She got both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there — and did love every minute . . . including the five-minute drive to Disneyland. The lesson here is that even if you visit a campus and don’t initially like it, there may be other benefits that outweigh first impressions.

Yes, it’s a big decision . . . but know this: Every college has something wonderful to offer.

Remember to check your portal on your college websites DAILY . . . and stay on top of those deadlines.

Available for graduation gift pre-orders now: