Early April marks the arrival of financial aid award letters from colleges across the US. You may be happy to see that your student is eligible for assistance with college expenses, but the complexity of financial aid awards often leaves parents scratching their heads to understand their options. Here are some simple steps to help you make decisions about your financial aid options:
Understand the letter thoroughly. Although it’s tempting to simply skip to the end of your letter to see the theoretical maximum that your student can receive, be sure to read the details of your financial aid award. Often portions or the entirety of the amount may be in the form of loans which must be paid back after graduation.
Consider all the costs. While most colleges provide an estimate or guideline for average student costs (including tuition, books, living expenses, etc), that average may not apply to your student. The only way to be sure is to prepare a budget for your student, including expenses that may have been left out, such as entertainment, travel expenses to get home, athletic fees, or more extensive reading list purchases.
Be upfront about financial changes. If things have changed for your family since you first applied for your financial aid (such as a job-loss or illness) which may affect your overall family income, be sure to communicate the changes to your Financial Aid officer and ask for a review of what you may be eligible for. Often families discover when they complete their taxes that their earnings were lower than they had expected the previous year, which may make them eligible for greater financial awards.
Pick and choose. Financial aid awards are frequently a combination of grants, scholarships and loans. Consider whether the grants and scholarships are sufficient for your needs and if you can say no to loans, thus avoiding graduating with debt.