How to Compare Financial Aid Offers
For most students, the cost of college will factor into the decision about where to attend. Find out what you need to know about comparing financial aid offers.
► Wait for your financial aid offers.
If you applied for financial aid, each college will let you know the amount, type and source of money you are eligible to receive. This is also called your financial aid package. Most colleges will send out a letter (or an e-mail) shortly after they send an acceptance letter, which is often late March or early April.
► Consider all the costs.
The cost of college is more than just tuition. Keep in mind the cost for housing, transportation, and other costs. Some financial aid offers will give you information about the cost, including estimates for these other expenses. Others might not, so you will need to find that information on the college’s website or a site like Big Future.
► Calculate what you will actually pay.
Break out the calculator! Don’t focus on the sticker price of a college or the amount of financial aid a college offers. What matters is the out-of-pocket cost — what you will actually pay. Use our Comparing Costs & Financial Aid fillable PDF worksheet or Google Doc to help you compare.
► Pay attention to the type of aid.
Not all financial aid is created equal. Gift aid, such as grants and scholarships, does not need to be paid back. Loans do! Know that you don’t have to accept all of the loans that are offered to you.
► Get help!
Financial aid offers can be very confusing. For general questions, ask for help from a counselor or trusted adult. For specific questions about one of your offers, contact the college’s financial aid office.
► Ask for a review if needed.
If your family’s financial circumstances have changed since you submitted your FAFSA or ORSAA, you can contact the financial aid office to appeal for additional financial aid. Significant changes could include job loss or increased medical costs, including those caused by COVID-19.
► Make your decision.
Consider more than just what you will pay for college. Choose a college that is a good fit for you academically, socially AND financially. Use our Making Your College Decision worksheet or Google Doc to help you compare your choices.
► Follow up to make sure you receive aid.
Once you have a made a decision about where you plan to attend college, you need to notify the college. You may also need to complete additional paperwork to accept your financial aid. You should also notify the colleges you will not attend.
Originally published April 2019.