Comparing Financial Aid Offers: A Guide

With financial aid offers to start to come through, it’s so important to know what they actually mean in order to find one that’s right for you.

Cost is a huge influencing factor when it comes to picking a college, therefore the quality of financial aid that you’re getting is important. However, it can be hard to know which ones are good and which not so much. Applying to college is already stressful so to help you out, we’ve come up with a guide on what to look for when comparing your financial aid offers.

Read through the details

First things first, be sure to read through your aid offers. We know it can be boring, but it’s really important to spend some time looking through your financial aid offers carefully.

When reading through your financial aid offers, here are the main things that you’re looking for.

Find out the cost of attendance

Firstly, you need to find out what the cost of attendance is for the program that you want to do. This should be specified on your aid offer. If this is not listed then be sure to ring the college directly to find out.

College prices can vary drastically and even though one college may give you a lot more in the way of aid, it may be so much more expensive to attend that it actually works out as the least financially sensible choice.

Subtracting your scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants are the two main things that will be listed on your financial aid offer. These both indicate how much money you will receive in aid. To then work out how much you will be out of pocket, you need to subtract this value from the overall tuition cost. The net cost is how much you’ll have to pay.

When looking at the scholarship and grant awards listed in your financial aid offer, you should pay attention to the details such as the academic requirements and the length of time that you receive the aid for. That way you can make sure that that particular aid offer is the best choice for you.

Federal Aid

If you qualify for Federal Student Financial Aid then that’s also another thing to take into consideration. Unlike grants and scholarships that are awarded to the student directly by the college, federal aid is awarded by the government. To find out if you qualify and to apply for this, you simply have to fill out a FAFSA form online. Then the amount that you will be awarded will be detailed in a letter to you. Once you know what you’ll get, you can also subtract this from the net cost that you’ve worked out.

Compare your colleges

Once you have worked out the net cost by subtracting the amount of aid you receive from the overall tuition costs, you compare this number for each of the colleges you are considering. The best way to do this is by putting down all of the net costs into a table from highest to lowest.

Other factors to consider

Obviously, money is really important when it comes to picking a college but there are other factors that come in to play too.

See Also

The courses on offer 

Firstly you should look at the courses that you are planning on doing. Do you prefer the course at a slightly more expensive college and would it lead you on to a higher paid job in the future anyway?


Location is another factor that’s really important. If you are really worried about money then going to your local college and living at home is going to save you a ton in money. On the other hand, if moving to another city or living on campus has always been your dream then you may be willing to pay a bit more for the experience.

The college itself

It’s also a good idea to visit the colleges in person so you can get a feel for the place and see if you could imagine spending the next few years there.

Comparing financial aid offers can be overwhelming but there’s no need to get stressed out about it. At the end of the day, it comes down to total money out vs total money in and it’s all a balancing act of matching cost with a college that you love.

Do you have any more questions about financial aid? Is so, ask us in the comments below.

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Phoebe Simmonds

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