Understanding financial aid awards can be a tricky proposition unless students know what they are looking at. When starting to evaluate the cost of college, remember not to rule out a college based on its stated cost, be wary of net price calculator results, and don’t assume all student loans are the same.
When a student receives their financial aid packages from the colleges to which he or she has been accepted, that’s when the due diligence process really begins. Since schools present their financial award packages in different ways, and even use different names, it can be quite confusing to the student and their parents.
Students should research and weigh their options carefully and avoid making any of the following assumptions:
Myth 1: All components of financial aid awards are free money. Financial aid packages could include two distinct categories of aid: money students won’t have to pay back and money they will. It may sound pretty simple, but it’s important to recognize what is essentially a gift scholarship or grant aid and what students have to work for or pay back; such as work-study positions and student loans.
Myth 2: Awards will be ongoing. After discerning what is scholarship or grant aid, understand that those numbers may change in subsequent years.
For example, if a student receives a merit award, does he or she need to maintain a certain grade point average to continue to qualify?
Myth 3: The total cost of a student’s financial aid package is what he/she will actually pay. A prospective student needs to dig deeply into each college’s website for all of the fees and add-ons not typically included in tuition and room and board, such as travel, books, and even social expenses.
Myth 4: The total cost will remain constant through graduation. Unless the student is enrolled in a school with a tuition guarantee program, there’s a good chance that costs of attending college will rise each year.
This is especially true for state schools that are facing budgeting issues.
Myth 5: Students can’t negotiate. If the financial aid package from a student’s top-choice school is not what he or she expected, it usually doesn’t hurt to contact the admissions office. If he has received a better offer or if her financial situation changes, it may warrant a phone call to state your case.