As May 1st decision deadlines approach, more than one local parent will be spending the next couple of weeks puzzling over financial aid award letters from colleges to which their child was accepted.
And it won’t be easy.
Intentional or not, financial aid letters are confusing, poorly written, and sometimes just plain deceptive.
To help families make sense of financial aid awards, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com authored a six-page Quick Reference Guide to Evaluating Financial Aid Award Letters, which he makes available as a FREE download available on the Finaid website.
Intended to help students and parents understand and compare financial award letters, the guide includes a summary of problems and pitfalls with financial aid award letters, a list of questions to ask college financial aid administrators, and a glossary of common terms.
The guide also contains links to a couple of handy tools designed to help decode and parse out meaning from financial aid letters. For example, the Award Comparison Tool formats data you provided into a chart designed to facilitate a comparison between financial aid packages. The Advanced Award Letter Comparison Tool takes this one step further and factors in college characteristics along with the financial aspects of the aid packages.
In addition, the guide makes clear distinctions between direct costs (required) and indirect costs (discretionary) of attendance and gently outlines tips for keeping the indirect costs under control. It warns that financial aid letters provide information for just one year and suggests that the cost of attendance will almost certainly increase each year—up to 20 to 25 percent higher by the senior year in college.
The Quick Reference Guide to Evaluating Financial Aid Award Letters is a tremendous resource. For more information or to download the guide, go to the Finaid.com website.