The wait is over. Or at least it is for most students.
As of April 1, virtually all colleges have notified their applicants as to whether they’ve been accepted, rejected or offered a spot on the wait-list.
For some students, it’s an easy final decision; whether it’s their state school or dream school, or maybe in this tough year of admissions, it’s the only school where they were accepted.
But, for many others, this is where the financial reality hits home and families need to have those tough conversations I talked about last fall:
• Is this school worth $60,000, $35,000 or $20,000 per year?
• Am I willing to borrow money to finance my child’s education?
• How much do debt am I willing to take on? What about my other children?
• What is considered a reasonable debt for my child to take on, so he/she has some skin in the game?
• Is the college experience that they would have at “Selective Private U” worth the expense and drain on family finances?
• Is my child focused on a major that has a career pathway where they will be able to pay back their loans without much hardship?
These are just a sampling of the questions swirling around most parents’ heads as they congratulate their children and then worry about where to send them to college.
Read the financial aid offer very carefully
Most colleges include a financial aid award letter with their acceptance letter. Read it carefully. Actually, read it through several times because there is a lot of information to digest.
There is no single template for financial aid award letters, so colleges use different names for similar kinds of loans, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and awards. This makes it very difficult to compare one college’s offer to another.
If you are unclear about the definition of any of the items offered, contact the financial aid office directly and ask for clarification.
Find out what is “free money” (grants that you do not need to pay back) versus loans (deferred payment). Also find out whether these are institutional, government or bank loans.
Find out which grants are renewable each year and under what conditions (usually a minimum GPA). Are there minimum course requirements each semester to maintain the grant and the work-study offers?
If your financial situation has changed since you applied or when you completed the FAFSA or CSS Profile, you’ll need to update the financial aid office. Also, ask them if they will reduce your aid if your child is able to secure local or national scholarships.
Lots to think about. Congratulations!
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.
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