With the May 1 enrollment deadline GONE, current high school seniors have some big decisions to make. In addition to choosing an institution that aligns with your academic and social interests, it’s important to select a college that is financially feasible for you and your family.
After receiving college acceptance, students should review each financial aid package thoroughly and factor the cost of each option into their final decision. Keep reading for some of our top tips on reviewing financial aid offers and choosing the best-fit options for your needs, goals, and budget!
Read the Fine Print
Instead of skimming over your award letters, take time to understand exactly how much you will be expected to pay and through what means. Many schools offer different types of aid, including grants, loans, and scholarships. Understand the differences between these aid types: unlike grants and scholarships, loans with need to be repaid. This is another opportunity to fine-tune the research skills you honed earlier on in the college search process. If you’re struggling to differentiate between forms of aid, review the university’s website and consider reaching out to the financial aid office to get additional clarification.
Note Any Stipulations
Once you feel confident in your understanding of different forms of aid, re-read your aid packages to note any stipulations or qualifications surrounding what you will be entitled to receive. For example, review whether awards are only for the first year or if they will renew from year to year. Similarly, take note of any minimum GPA requirements associated with scholarships or grants. When evaluating financial aid offers, it’s important to see the big picture and looking out for these kinds of qualifications will help you accomplish this.
Factor in Other Costs
Tuition and housing aren’t the only expenses students need to have on their radar. Evaluate the cost of attendance overall, including living expenses, books, transportation, and activity fees. Living costs can vary greatly, in part based on where the college is located. For example, dining and other basic living expenses can be more costly in a major city versus a small town or rural location. In addition to factoring in the raw financial aid information, students should consider how far this will stretch at each institution they are considering.
Stay on Top of It
Receiving an award letter isn’t always the end point of the financial aid process. Verify that the financial aid office is not waiting on any documents from you that will guarantee your aid packages. Additionally, some students may wish to submit updated financial aid information that can change their eligibility for funding. Something like a divorce or change in a parent’s employment status can impact how much and what kind of aid a student will receive.
Factor in Opportunities
It’s important to enroll in a college that will provide students with exciting learning opportunities and room for personal and professional growth. Review each school’s career services, alumni network, and potential internship opportunities. Most institutions have resources dedicated to helping students gain hands-on work experience and develop their resumes. When making your final college decision, factor in what kind of opportunities are particularly exciting to you and where these experiences will be most readily available.
Making a decision about where to enroll in college can feel stressful, but with adequate research and consideration, students should feel confident about their choices.