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Comparing your financial aid offers can be complicated, especially if your awards vary in the type and amount of aid given. But no need to fret, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for a more in-detail approach to understand your college coins.

Estimated Bill (Amount you pay upfront)

Direct Cost (Tuition and Fees and Room and Board) – Gift Aid (not including work-study) – Loans = Estimated Bill

Your estimated bill will probably not be shown in your financial aid package, since the school considers both direct and indirect costs for their cost of attendance. You will pay directly to the college for your tuition, fees for services on campus, your dorm, and your meal plan – these fall under “tuition and fees” and “room and board”. Books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses are not necessarily billed to you by the school, but they are expenses indirectly linked to the college experience.

Your financial aid package will consist of awards you can put into two categories: gift aid (money you DON’T have to pay back) and loans (money you DO have to pay back). Gift aid can be made up of federal and state grants (including Pell grants, etc), scholarships, and work-study (work-study is money you will earn for working on campus). Loans are money you will have to pay back once you graduate – this can include subsidized, unsubsidized, parent PLUS, and Perkins loans.

Money You Don’t Have to Pay Back (AKA GIFT AID)

  • Federal Grants and State Grants
    • FSEO Grant
    • Pell Grant
    • Merit Grant
  • Work-study
  • Reporting Scholarships

Money You DO Have to Pay Back (AKA LOANS)

  • Subsidized Loans
  • Unsubsidized Loans
  • Parent PLUS Loans
  • Perkins Loans

Your estimated bill will be the amount you pay upfront. Keep in mind that the estimated bill is what you will pay directly to the school for the year, but you will have to pay your loans back later. To calculate your estimated bill, subtract gift aid and loans in your financial aid package from the direct costs (tuition & fees, room & board).

If your estimated bill is a negative value, this is what you will pay directly to the school when you are billed. If it’s a positive number, you will receive this amount in the form of a “refund check”, which you can spend on books, transportation, and any other personal expenses.

The net cost is the actual, final cost you will pay. This includes loans you will end up paying off later. To calculate your net cost, simply add loans to your estimated bill:

Net Costs (Total Amount you will pay)

Estimated Bill + Loans offered = Net Costs

Now that you’ve calculated your estimated bill and net costs, you can compare these numbers between different schools and also decide whether or not you want to accept the loans in your financial aid package. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you compare financial aid award letters:

Questions to ask yourself when comparing financial aid award letters

  1. How much does each school cost?
  2. What are the direct cost and indirect cost?
  3. How do their indirect cost estimates compare to MY budget?
  4. How much did each school offer me in grant money?
    1. And work-study, which can’t cover my bill
    2. Is the scholarship or grant renewable?
  5. How much did they suggest I use in loans?
  6. Did they put a Parent PLUS loan on my award?
  7. What was omitted in the letter that I may be eligible for?
  8. Does this look about right, or did I make a FAFSA mistake

Quick Tips

  1. Think carefully on what loans you are accepting
  2. Make sure your institutional grants are for all 4 years – you can do this by asking the financial aid office at the college.
  3. Talk to your parents before accepting any loans
  4. Talk to your College Adviser
  5. Decide your college, then accept or decline any LOANS offered

Declining Financial Award/Aid

To decline Financial Aid Awards, log into your student portals and decline.

If you are no longer interested in attending a school, please send their admissions office a message. This will open up seats available to students who truly want to attend the institution. The email can be simple, see below for an example.

             “Dear Admissions Office,

            Thank you for your time in reading my application and offering me admission to your institution. However, I wanted to let you know that I will not be enrolling at your school.



Accepting Scholarships & Grants

  • Deadlines
    • READ the financial aid award letter carefully, some institutions give you an allotted time frame to accept your financial aid.

IF you NEED MORE time, contact the financial aid office and request more time up through decision day May 1st. This is usually the case when you are waiting on other school’s financial aid award letters or acceptances.

  • Accepting
    • Read instructions included in your award letter,

Promissory Notes/Loan Counseling

Loans are not automatically given to you although they may be offered. You must accept or decline loans. If you choose to accept loans, you must do Loan Counseling. This just means that you must do an online interactive training that gives you an overview of how loans work and is individualized to your loans. Contact the financial aid office if you have any questions.

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