If you've been accepted at multiple colleges and were awarded competitive financial aid packages, congratulations! You're in a great position to find the perfect school and have a great college experience.
While you're comparing colleges and universities that have accepted you, be sure you look at the big picture. Remember, you'll be studying and living at the school for a few years, two or three if you're applying to a community college, and four or five if you're applying to a traditional college or university.
While being awarded enough college money to help you pay for school is a major component of your decision, you'll also want to make sure you choose a school where you'll be enriched by the college program and will enjoy the student culture. The most affordable school may not be the right school in the long run if you're unmotivated, unchallenged and unhappy throughout your college education. Be sure you make a decision that balances your financial situation with your educational goals and gets you on the right road toward your future.
Each award letter you receive will have a different format, which can make an apples-to-apples comparison difficult. For a better understanding, create a worksheet with columns where you divide gift aid, like federal grants and school scholarships, and self-help aid, which includes college loans and work-study college programs.
Once you've created separate lists of the money, determine which aid is the better deal. An award with more federal grants and school scholarships is preferable to money for college in the form of college loans and work-study, since loans have to be repaid and work-study will require you to commit to a certain amount of hours a week during your school year.
You also want to look closely at the college loans you've been offered. Each loan comes with its own interest rate and repayment policy, and these can vary dramatically, making some far better deals than others. To make the decision process easier, be sure to compare student loans and find the best possible rates. Also, don't forget, you don't have to accept all the self-help aid you're offered. You can decline loans or request a loan for a lesser amount than you're offered.
After you've evaluated the quality of the aid you've been offered, take a look at each university's cost of attendance. If your family's money for college and your college aid don't cover those costs, it could rule out a school. If that means your top school now appears out of your reach, don't panic. You can contact the school's financial aid office and see if they will reconsider the aid you've been awarded.Let them know if you have documents showing aspects of your financial situation that you don't believe were taken into consideration or that show that the financial situation has worsened since you applied for aid.
Ask each school how much of your financial aid package you can expect to receive in subsequent years. Even if your need remains the same, some schools will change your allotment each year of school.
Don't rule out a work-study program because you're afraid of the time commitment. These programs are a great way to earn money for college, and you can learn valuable skills that will help you in your classes and your career.
If you've ruled out a school, let them know as early as possible so they can give your spot, and your college aid, to another deserving student.
The hunt for a college scholarship doesn't necessarily end when you get into college. Because your financial needs may change, and the aid you're awarded can change each year, stay on the lookout for new scholarships. There is a college scholarship for nearly every kind of college student, and the more you find, the easier time you'll having paying for college.**
This article was originally published on April 10, 2012 at CollegeFinancialAidAdvisors.com.