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National Application Center :: pay for college

Plan, explore, and apply to college using these great tools.
Award Packages

How do I compare award packages?

If you've received more than one financial aid award package, this module will help you compare them. Here are some points you'll want to consider:

  • Ratio of grant to loan

    In general, packages with higher percentages of grant aid than loan aid will be more appealing. You'll have less to pay while in college and fewer debts to repay when you graduate. This ratio may also give you a clue as to how much the college wants you, since colleges tend to award higher proportions of grant aid to the most desirable students in the accepted group.

  • Ratio of self help to grant

    This looks at the big picture beyond just grant vs. loan. How much of the total cost of attendance are you expected to cover through loans, the expected family contribution, and student employment on campus? You'll need to be realistic about whether you can meet the earnings expectations.

  • Loan terms

    Compare the types of loans you are expected to take on. Are the terms favorable in terms of interest and repayment? Student loans with low interest rates and no repayment until after college are preferable to private or unsubsidized loans with less attractive terms.

  • Gapping

    Some colleges award aid that amounts to less than the difference between the Expected Family Contribution and the total cost of attendance. If you find you have been gapped in an award, only you can determine if you will be able to, and want to, come up with the additional money in order to attend.

  • Future Packages

    You'll want to find out if all or part of your financial aid award is renewable if family circumstances stay the same (or worsen!). Beware of packages that seem too good to be true: often the terms will not be as favorable for subsequent years of enrollment.

  • Outside Scholarships

    If you are applying for or will otherwise qualify for outside scholarships, be sure to find out how this money will be treated in each college's financial aid award package. At some colleges, an outside scholarship directly reduces the institutional grant by the same amount. Other colleges allow a certain amount to go first against any suggested loan, then, if the outside scholarship is greater than that amount, it will reduce equally institutional grant and loan.