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Help in Deciphering Financial Aid

By Deborah Williams

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Navigating through the financial aid maze can be a challenge for high school seniors whose hopes for a college education is dependent upon the assistance that they can receive from a financial aid award.  Caralee Adams, writer for Education Week’s higher education blog College Bound, reminds readers in her article, “Helping High School Seniors Sort Financial-Aid Offers,” that the types of financial aid are many.  Financial aid can be awarded as “grants, scholarships, loans, work-study—some based on merit, others on need.”  Some are awarded one time only while others are renewable if their academic performance is acceptable or if they can show that they still are in need.

Parents still need to come up with additional funding because these often don’t cover all costs.   Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, says, “Families should look at the total cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, estimates for living expenses, and transportation and see if it lines up with their budget.”  After the scholarships and grants amounts have been subtracted, parents will need to decide how to fund the net amount, and if the financial aid is for one time only or is renewable, there will be more questions the next year.

Two new tools are now available to help families make good decisions about financial aid.  The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is a new tool from the U. S. Department of Education that many colleges are using now.  It allows users to compare financial aid offers.  Families also can compare offers for free online with College Abacus .  It requires users to create a password-protected account.  Additionally, comparisons of financial-aid awards can be compared on the College Board’s Big Future website.

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