In March, mailboxes across this country will be flooded with college admissions offers to anxiously waiting students. Most colleges send out admission acceptances during this month, along with their financial aid packages. They request that you return your “reservation” card by May 1st. If your student is like most, he or she has applied to seven to ten colleges and will receive numerous offers of admission.
Have the acceptances, however exciting, left you and your student confused or debating which college is the best choice? Here are key factors to consider as you make the final decision.
1. Compare financial aid packages
With your acceptance letter, or shortly thereafter, you should receive the award letter. These letters will outline the loans, scholarships and grants, and the work study program. The easiest way to compare is to use this online form from FinAid.org (or convert to an excel file) listing every award and the broken down cost of attendance along with other factors. Using this form will help you see each college cost and the value of the aid they are offering. Ask if the aid is available for all four years.
2. Review your campus visit notes
Look at the notes you made (and the photos you took) during each campus visit. Refresh your memory and remember the feeling you had during the visits and connections with admissions and financial aid staff.
3. What do you like and dislike about each individual college?
As you compare awards make a list of likes and dislikes of each college. Seeing them on paper can serve as an illumination tool when you look at the colleges side-by-side.
4. Ask questions if the information is not clear
The award letter might not list non-billable costs such as books, supplies, transportation and living expenses. These costs should be figured in to the cost of attendance. You might not think they are significant, but over a 4-year period they will be.
5. Request additional aid if necessary
If you believe there are factors they have not accounted for in the aid (like divorce, sickness, loss of employment) be sure to call the financial aid office and explain your situation. Don’t settle for an offer if you have competing offers you can use for leverage and request more aid. Many colleges will be wiling to up their aid packages if they see your student as a valuable asset to their student body and want to remain competitive with other colleges.
6. Pay close attention to the type of loans offered
Not all loans are equal. Do your research before the award letter arrives. Know the difference between government and private loans, subsidized and unsubsidized, and parent loans. Look at the interest rates and repayment rates using a repayment calculator. Remember that after graduation, your student will need to start repaying the loans. If their projected salary won’t cover the loan payments, consider that when evaluating the offers.
The decision on which college to attend should be heavily weighted by the financial responsibility. However, there are often other factors to consider that could be considered in the final decision. As with any large purchase, take your time to evaluate the educational value of each college. If you haven’t done so earlier in the process, you can use the recently created College Scorecard to gather that information.
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