NEWARK, Del.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--College-bound students in the process of choosing a future alma mater have a lot to consider — academics, location, campus culture, and, of course, cost — and if financial aid is part of the paying-for-college equation, students and families should carefully compare school financial aid packages, which usually include the same information, but can vary in format and terminology. To help students and families more easily understand them, Sallie Mae — the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company — has tips on how to review, analyze, and evaluate the financial aid offers they receive.
Sallie Mae suggests these five tips for reviewing financial aid award letters:
- Understand what’s in the offer. Most awards include the school’s cost of attendance (COA), which typically includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other related costs, and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an estimate the school calculates to determine the amounts and types of financial aid for which the student may be eligible. The award also includes federal student loans, which may be called direct loans, as well as scholarships and grants. Some awards combine these into one category, so be clear on how much of the award consists of loans that must be repaid, and how much is “free money,” like scholarships and grants, that does not. Work-study, if offered, is not a discount; it is the total amount the student is eligible to earn for performing work assigned by the school.
- Use a spreadsheet to compare awards on an apples-to-apples basis. List each type of expense and each source of funding separately, view them side by side, and weigh the pros and cons of each. Add expenses not in the COA, like cell phone, entertainment, and other personal expenses. Note loan rates and repayment terms, and if scholarships and grants are renewable or contingent on qualifications like maintaining a certain GPA. Subtract the total amount of aid, including loans, from the total amount of expenses; if savings and income aren’t enough to make up the difference, using a private student loan, like those offered by Sallie Mae, can be a responsible way to bridge the financing gap.
- The biggest award might not be the best award. If an offer consists primarily of loans that will need to be repaid, but a smaller package offers a higher percentage of scholarships, it may make more sense to accept the smaller offer. Keep in mind the student does not have to accept everything offered in the award package. Look beyond the dollar amount and think about what’s not in the award letter: academic quality, graduation rate, sports teams, the social scene, and other quality-of-life considerations.
- Think ahead. If student loans are part of the mix, consider how much debt the newly minted graduate will be able to manage. Borrowing and repaying responsibly can work in a student’s favor by helping to establish a positive credit history. Balancing studies with the demands of a work-study job can be challenging, but the experience gained could lead to more lucrative job offers in the future.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Students hoping for a more aid should ask the school’s financial aid officer to review the offer, especially if the family’s financial situation has changed through unforeseeable events such as job loss, unexpected medical expenses, natural disasters, or other emergencies. It never hurts to ask, regardless of financial circumstances; the best way to make such a request is by writing a letter or scheduling an appointment.
“Having recently gone through this process with my son, I understand deciding which school to attend is exciting and emotional for the whole family,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “It’s so important when all is said and done that you feel confident you made the right decision. You’ll serve yourself well by taking the time to compare your financial aid awards, read the fine print, and understand the terms and conditions. And if you get stuck, Sallie Mae has free information and resources to help.”
Tips on understanding and evaluating award letters are available at SallieMae.com/college-planning/financial-aid/financial-aid award letter and in Sallie Mae’s “How to Read Your Financial Aid Award Letter” video. Find additional information on saving, planning, and paying for college at SallieMae.com.
Sallie Mae (Nasdaq: SLM) is the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company. Whether college is a long way off or just around the corner, Sallie Mae offers products that promote responsible personal finance, including private education loans, Upromise rewards, scholarship search, college financial planning tools, and online retail banking. Learn more at SallieMae.com. Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.