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Comparing Financial Aid Offers

curiouscollege1curiouscollege1 Registered User Posts: 64 Junior Member
I know there have been some families that have developed some good spreadsheets for comparing COA and fees. I can't seem to do a good search back. Anyone have suggestions on what they used to compare the numbers? Also, is there any real difference between scholarships and Need Based Aid? Specific questions we should ask, besides GPA good standing? My daughter has received several offers, one school considers most of it Need Based Aid, while another considered it renewable Merit Aid

Replies to: Comparing Financial Aid Offers

  • 3scoutsmom3scoutsmom Registered User Posts: 4,525 Senior Member
    Every school is different but in general Merit Aid is contingent on GPA if the GPA drops below a certain point which varies by schools, Merit aid could be lost. Need based aid is not tied to GPA.

    Outside scholarships may reduce the Need Based Aid but often outside scholarships can be 'stacked' with Merit Aid.
  • AroundHereAroundHere Registered User Posts: 2,462 Senior Member
    Step one: Tally up your cost of attendance for each school. The quick way is to take the estimate from the college website, but you may want to customize it to your exact situation. Your actual cost of travel, if it's just a short drive or a long plane ride. Your actual meal plan and dorm (funny how the honors dorm is always the most expensive one...).

    Step two: Subtract off the "free" money, your grants and scholarships.

    Step two-and-a-half: Compare the amount you get at this point to your EFC. If there is a large gap, you may want to look for a school that meets a higher percentage of need or has a lower starting price tag.

    Step three: Figure out how you would pay the remaining amounts for each school. Family's money. Loans. Is there a work-study award? Would your child actually find the time to work or are they a student-athlete with a demanding major?

    Step four: Look at the history of price increases for the school and project out the cost for the next four years. Assume that grant money stays the same. You should not assume either need based or merit based aid will keep up with tuition increases. The schools often expect you to pay for those with your increased federal loan limit and/or say "older students are able to earn more over the summer."

    Step five: Come up with any questions about the school financial aid policies, how grants are renewed each year, any new circumstances that might be a basis for a financial aid appeal, etc. Get your concerns answered from the school and decide.
  • sybbie719sybbie719 Super Moderator Posts: 20,828 Super Moderator
    At many deep pocket schools that do not give merit aid (Ivies/ top LACs) the term scholarship is used for need based aid.

    The continuation of need based aid is usually contingent on maintaining Satisfactory Academic Progress.

    Grants (Federal and State grants) are entitlements that you will receive as long as you are eligible. remember that in many cases you cannot use your state grant outside of your home state (please see the schools that you are applying to for exceptions).
  • curiouscollege1curiouscollege1 Registered User Posts: 64 Junior Member
    Thanks. This is all very helpful!
  • beth's mombeth's mom Registered User Posts: 3,361 Senior Member
    Merit aid can be lost if you don't maintain the specified GPA - be sure to look at the GPA required, the major and how difficult it is, and how any probation period works. If you have a fluctuating income and there's a possibility your income could go up, your need-based aid in future years could go down. Look at your individual situation and you can decide which would be better for you.
  • lz57c4lz57c4 Registered User Posts: 432 Member
    best thing to compare your awards is to use a spreadsheet. no need to create one yourself, just download one. Here's a spreadsheet link: if they block it just google "vermont award comparison tool". Using a tool like this will help ensure you compare apples to apples between different schools. I find the single most important number is the 'net price' - the closer to your EFC, the better aid you're receiving.

  • InigoMontoyaInigoMontoya Registered User Posts: 1,510 Senior Member
    You also need to look at how much costs typically increase per year and if the scholarship amount will also increase. Most of the offers my kids got for merit money were fixed amounts that stayed the same even though tuition and housing increased - meaning each year was more expensive than the last. Some were percentages, so as tuition increased, the % scholarship also increased, making it a little less painful.

    Also, if living on campus, at some schools costs for junior/senior year housing are more as upperclassmen may be housed in more of apartment-style rather than dorm-style arrangements.
  • alooknacalooknac Registered User Posts: 991 Member
    I don't know if they still have it posted on their website but Denison had a spreadsheet that I used as a starting point and customized it.

    If study abroad is a possibility, look into whether FinAid, either merit or need based, may be used for study abroad. My D had 2 offers, different packages but with exact same net cost. However at one school the merit scholarship could not be used abroad. While there are scholarships specifically for study abroad, they are competitive and represent more hoops to jump through when applying to go abroad.

    At the college she now attends, her FinAid will be good for a full year of study abroad in her particular language. In some languages at her school, it would only cover a one semester program.
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