There are two main obstacles for colleges in standardizing offers, according to Fishman: There’s no legal standard for language in award letters, and schools use different software to manage aid. In a push for more consistency, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidance on what schools should avoid, such as presenting the cost of attendance without a breakdown. There’s also bipartisan support in Congress to make aid offers more uniform, including two current bills. Some colleges have tried to address the problem, but others continue to use the same format they’ve used for years, says Brendan Williams, director of knowledge at uAspire. The financial aid office at the University of Nebraska Kearney overhauled its award letter last year, including color coding each aid type and providing an estimated net cost. Net cost is the cost of attendance minus free aid. It represents the amount that borrowers will have to cover. Despite the changes, families still often want a walk-through, says Mary Sommers, the school’s financial aid director. “That’s OK, that’s our job,” she adds.
How to compare financial aid award offers
To compare financial aid award offers, experts recommend these steps
• Create a spreadsheet with separate columns for each school.
• Under each column, start with the total cost of attending each school.
• List each award type and amount.
• Add all free aid together first and subtract from the total cost to attend.
Since you want to take all free aid first, what you have left is the amount you would need to cover with savings, income or loans. Compare this bottom-line amount with other schools on the list. You can also use tools like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Compare Schools tool or the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ Aid Offer C omparisonWorksheet . “Bottom line: I would encourage people to take a long look at that letter, read it all, make sure they understand it and reach out when they don’t,” says Hicks.
If it’s unclear how to accept one type of aid or reject another, contact the school’s financial aid office.
Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.
The article Accepted! How to Decipher Your College Aid originally appeared on NerdWallet.
• 20 •
Powered by FlippingBook