Financial Aid 101: A Crash Course in Paying for College

Decoding Your Aid Packages

Be warned that even though a college may offer you a “financial aid award,” this doesn’t mean that the entire package consists of free gift aid. Depending on your financial needs, you may be offered a combination of all three types of aid, and each school’s offer will be unique.

“It is important to review the offers and try to compare some basic information,” Lewis says. She advises that you start by comparing the Cost of Attendance for each school and the annual loan amount multiplied by the four (or five) years necessary to complete a degree. Once you know the total cost and how much you’ll need to borrow, compare the total amount of grant and scholarship aid. “For scholarships, students should check with the school to make sure they understand if the scholarship is renewable or a one-time scholarship,” Lewis says. If you have to renew it, be sure to review what criteria you have to meet in future years to renew the scholarship.

Keep in mind that on your journey to becoming a collegiette™, applying for financial aid can be a time-intensive but rewarding process. “[Applying for financial aid] takes work, searching for sources, completing applications and essays for scholarships, and this continues every year the student is in school,” Lewis says. “Persistence pays off.” With financial aid knowledge and a little persistence, you’ll make it to college without breaking the bank.

“About Federal Student Aid,” FAFSA []
“Financial Aid: How it Works,” College Board []
Kay Lewis, Director of Student Financial Aid at the University of Washington
“Trends in College Pricing 2010,” College Board []