If you’re parenting a teen, there’s a good chance that sometime during the winter of your child’s senior year of high school, you’re going to be flipping through documents called “financial aid award letters.”
You’ll have a “financial aid award letter” from every college that’s accepted your child—as long as you’ve filled out the FAFSA financial aid form (which you should absolutely do, even if you’re rich).
When you’re sifting through three or four financial aid award letters, how do you compare them?
This article is going to help you with that important task. As a starting point, let’s look very briefly at what financial aid award letters are, and what the problem tends to be with them.
Financial aid award letters tell you how much money you’ll be expected to pay for the education at each college.
Sounds great, right? This is the point where you get to know the actual price tag for each school. This is where you find out which college is offering your daughter the best deal.
The problem is that financial aid award letters are notoriously difficult to interpret and compare.
I wish that evaluating financial packages were easy, but the process is tricky because financial aid packages aren’t standardized. In some cases, a college may offer your child what looks like a sweet deal—thousands of dollars in free money financial aid to help pay for college—but when you look closely at the figures, you realize that even with that large amount of financial aid, you’re still left with thousands of dollars coming out of your family pocketbook in the form of cash payments and student loans.
Another college will offer you a completely different package of financial help, and the two will be difficult to compare.
What should you do? Is it considered OK for you to call the financial aid office and ask questions?
It is absolutely OK for you to call the financial aid office and ask questions. It is highly advisable that you do! You are the customer. You need answers to some questions in order to help your child make a sound financial decision about college. Call!
Some financial aid award letters contain a “frequently asked questions” section or link that will answer important questions before you even ask them. Ask the financial aid office if they have a clear FAQ page you can look at, and go over it carefully. If the college doesn’t offer a clear FAQ page, though, then call and ask these questions of a real human being in the college financial aid office:
Question #1 to Ask the Financial Aid Office:
“I see that you’re recommending that our son take out $8,000 in student loans each year. If he applies for and wins private scholarships while he’s in college, will those scholarships decrease this loan amount, or will you use that scholarship money to reduce the free money financial aid you’ve offered him?”
If this financial aid office does use private scholarship money to reduce its free money gift aid rather than to decrease students’ future debt burdens, that may be enough to knock this college off of your list of prospects.
Question #2 to Ask the Financial Aid Office:
“The financial aid I’m seeing on this award letter—that’s renewable for all four years, right? My daughter isn’t going to get these grants only just this year, and then be surprised by doubled college costs when she’s a sophomore, correct?”
Question #3 to Ask the Financial Aid Office:
“How much do college costs usually increase per year? I know that we reapply for financial aid every year. If our income and assets stay the same, will our free money gift aid increase each year to cover these extra costs? Will I need to call you each year and ask about that?”
To find out 5 more questions every parent should be asking the college financial aid office, see pages 264–269 of my book:
You can get 10-minute, fast-paced video instruction on how to use this book most efficiently at bit.ly/
You can see more than 100 reviews of it on Amazon at:
(Tell your friends.)
You can see why financial advising professionals love LAUNCH, here.
You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCH, here.
Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26 and their parents and grandparents. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, Parents Magazine, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.