The roller coaster ride is about to come to an end for many aspiring high school seniors. Acceptance and financial aid award letters have been arriving as part of the final leg of the college search and selecting process. This is it, who wants me and how much will they help me to meet the cost of attending? It is a pivotal point in the process. Students and parents need to work together to make a decision.  A decision that will catapult a student to their next level of academic and personal growth. This should be an exciting time, one not overshadowed by stress. Good communication, honest conversations and a lot of self-reflection can calm those tears.

Acceptance Letters

Each college or university will communicate their interest in welcoming a student to their campus through this letter (or email announcement). The communication will acknowledge the offer of Acceptance (general and/or honors) and guidelines on how to submit one’s deposit and deadline (generally on or before May 1). Many communications will also acknowledge the awarding of Institution Scholarship. These are tied to a student’s academic, personal character or talent. They’re referred to as President, Dean and/or by a Specific College. All questions related to the acceptance process should be communicated to the school’s Admissions Office. It is critical to adhere to specific deadlines requested by the school.

Financial Aid Award Letter

Here the college or university will communicate their offer to assist a student/family who has demonstrated ‘need” after filing the FAFSA (and other documentation). The Financial Aid Award Letter communicates all merit (talent) scholarships and all estimated financial aid, including institutional need-based grants, federal work student and federal loans. In many cases the structure of the award letter also services a pre-bill, disclosing the cost of attendance, aid awarded and the remaining Net Costs to Attend (see example).

Comparing Award Letters

 Although some award letters may appear to be similar, many will be ever so slightly different. The cost of attendance will be different, public, private, small, large institutions, while that actual awarding maybe night and day. Each institution has its own arsenal of resources to use to reward and recruit a student. The most important part of comparing award letters is to examine the distribution of aid between merit scholarships and need-based aid. Remember, Scholarships are awarded for academic and talent and are generally communicated as part of the Acceptance Process.

So, how do they compare? Is one school heavier on scholarships while another has none? Does another school offer a mixture of both scholarships, grants (need-based) and self-help (work and loans)? Using a Net Education Cost Worksheet, you can map out the different awards like the sample below.

Note: If an award letter details a Federal PLUS Loan, one should be aware that this is a credit-based loan, requiring credit approval and is not automatic!!

 The Final Decision

Ultimately the bottom line, choosing a college for an 18 years old student with wide eyes and the world at their feet is not an easy task. It requires a strong evaluation of the students wants, needs and expectations. It requires an honest discussion and evaluation regarding which choice will be the best for the student. Which choice will offer a student the greatest personal growth, strengthen one’s academic foundation for a career and yes, be affordable? It should not be based on one single variable or consideration. It is about where and how will the investment prepare a student for their next level in life. For if the investment hits the mark, then the selection will be a student’s “right fit”!!