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How to Decipher Your Financial Aid Offers

February 12, 2024
By Brendan Williams

How to Decipher Your Financial Aid Offers

You’ve been accepted to college (congrats!) and you’re starting to receive financial aid offers. These offers tell you how much financial aid you will receive if you attend that college and can help you figure out how much you may need to pay out of pocket. They’re the key to understanding the costs of attending your different college options. 

College can be as expensive as a car or even a house, and you’d never buy a car or a house without knowing the costs. Similarly, make sure you understand the full costs of attending each college before making your choice. Due to delays in FAFSA processing times, you may still be waiting to receive some financial aid offers. It is important to wait until you have received all your aid offers before committing to a school so that you can accurately compare costs. Once you have all of your aid offers, follow these steps:

Review all your financial aid offers

Make sure you understand the costs associated with attending each of your college options. If you haven't yet received a financial aid offer from a school where you've been accepted, call their financial aid office to better understand their timeline and to see if they require any additional information from you.

Find the starting cost for each of your colleges

Financial aid offers may not provide you with all the necessary information. One of the most important pieces of information to consider is the cost of attendance. Check the college's website for updated costs of tuition and fees, housing and meals (if you plan to live on campus), and other estimates such as books, supplies, and transportation. If you cannot find this information on the college website, look at the College Board's BigFuture, but keep in mind that these costs may be outdated. Knowing the accurate costs is essential to understanding each college's financial aid offer.

Identify the different types of financial aid on your offers

Grants and scholarships are the best types of financial aid because they provide money that doesn't need to be repaid. Loans are borrowed money that must be paid back, usually with interest. Lastly, work-study is a type of financial aid that you earn by working on campus throughout the school year. To learn more about each type of financial aid, check out this article.

Do the math for yourself

When colleges offer you financial aid, they may calculate your costs in different ways which makes comparing offers challenging. To ensure you're comparing apples to apples, it's best to do the same cost calculation for each college. You can use uAspire's College Cost Calculator for this purpose. With this tool, you can easily and accurately compare your financial aid offers by calculating your estimated bill, indirect expenses, and potential loan repayment for each college option. Learn more by watching this short video.

Consider how many years it will take to complete your degree

Keep in mind that the costs you're calculating are for one year only. Consider your estimtated bill as an annual expense for each year until you graduate and, if you plan to borrow student loans, how this will impact the amount you'll need to repay after graduation. The College Cost Calculator will show you your estimated bill for one year and your estimated loan debt based on the number of years you'll need to attend to graduate. This is a great starting point for creating a long-term plan to cover your college expenses.

College cost is a crucial factor to consider when making your decision. Understanding your expenses, reviewing financial aid offers, and knowing the costs of all options will help make an informed decision and increase your chances of success.

Check out our resources and events to support students through the financial aid process.