College decision day (May 1st) is closing in on millions of high school seniors. Financial aid offers from different schools will bear on many of those decisions. So, before those Aid Award letters start rolling in, here are a few preparatory tips.
- Terms of Engagement: Each school estimates its COA (Cost of Attending), including tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, and some indirect costs. Other costs may depend on a student’s course of study, proximity to campus, etc. The EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is derived from information submitted on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). A school’s total aid offer should equal the COA minus the EFC.
- Prepare to Compare: Financial aid packages differ in how they bridge that COA–EFC gap. The College Board advises a close look at the proportion of gifts and scholarships versus subsidized loans or campus-based work. The Board offers a comparison tool at www.bigfuture.org. Under “Pay for College,” click on “Tools & Calculators,” then on “Compare Your Aid Awards.”
- Stay in the Game: Observe the deadline to accept an award. Contact a school’s aid office if you have questions, your financial situation has changed, or you want to lobby for a better offer. And remember, financial aid is awarded a year at a time. Some components may be for one year only or depend on a student meeting certain conditions.