It’s college financial aid package season, which means many families across the nation are in the process of deciding which college or university is the best bang for their very expensive buck. Here’s what you need to know as you enter this stressful, but exciting time.
Study the award letter. When you look closely, you’ll notice that federal student loans are considered part of your financial aid, and of course, those will have to be paid back. While you do get the benefit of the interest not accruing until six months after the student leaves school (for subsidized federal loans) and a fairly low interest rate, it’s grants and scholarships that will really reduce your total cost of attendance.
You can negotiate your financial aid package. If your teen really wants to attend a particular school but you’re disappointed in the amount of aid offered, ask for a meeting with the financial aid officer. Of course, you’ll have more leverage if the student has a stellar academic record and/or specific talents and attributes. Have your teen be prepared to share a few selling points on what he can bring to the school – share a recent achievement or two – and mention that he’d love to attend but is considering other offers because of the financial situation. Along those lines, if there is an extenuating financial circumstance that the school is not aware of (a medical expense or recent hardship, for instance) this is the time to share it. Showing a deep interest in the school and having a little bit of luck on your side can result in a new offer.
Don’t forget to add other costs. Beyond the amount you’re expected to pay in tuition, don’t forget to consider other major expenses associated with college so you have a truer picture of what each option will cost. Will the student be going away to school? If so, how far away? What’s the typical cost to fly home for a visit? Is an in-state public university a better value? What other student fees have to be paid? You should look on the school’s website or reach out to the financial aid or admissions office to find out about other student costs.
You have until May 1 to make your final decision. In fact, the date is sometimes called National College Decision Day. For those schools that your teen won’t be attending that sent offers of acceptance, let them know as soon as you can that you will be going elsewhere. Doing so can free up a spot and potentially some institutional aid for someone else. When you choose to enroll at a school, you’ll have to send along a nonrefundable deposit with your statement of intent to register. That’s the school’s way of making sure that you’re committed.
Although you might feel overwhelmed by all of the admissions and financial aid information you’re receiving, take your time. Read over your paperwork carefully, reach out with questions, and help your teen make a decision that’s best for him or her financially as well as academically.