How to understand your college financial aid award letter

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When it comes to college these days, students are more concerned about how they will pay the tab than they are about getting in, according to a recent survey of college-bound students and their families.

Higher education already costs more than most families can afford, and college costs are still rising. Tuition and fees plus room and board for a four-year private college averaged $53,430 in the 2022-2023 school year; at four-year, in-state public colleges, it was $23,250, according to the College Board.

For most students and their families, which college they will choose hinges on the amount of financial aid offered, which is laid out in each school’s financial aid award letter.

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Understanding the college financial aid letter

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Even with gift aid, there may be strings attached, such as whether a grant is renewable for all four years or a minimum grade point average that must be maintained. A school that seems more generous initially might also offer less funding down the road, Chany said.

In the end, schools will often offer more financial aid than you may need, particularly in loans.

As a general rule, don’t borrow any more than you absolutely have to, most experts say. Many people make the mistake of borrowing too much and struggle with repayment down the road.

It’s not too late to get more college aid

Even if you didn’t apply for financial aid, “it’s not too late,” said Mary Jo Terry, a managing partner at Yrefy, a private student loan refinancing company.

In ordinary years, high school graduates miss out on billions in federal grants because they don’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Many families mistakenly assume they won’t qualify and don’t even bother to apply.

As of early March, only 42.7% of the high school class of 2023 had completed the FAFSA, according to the National College Attainment Network.

The FAFSA season for the 2023-24 academic year opened Oct. 1, but students who haven’t filed can still apply.

How families can appeal for more college financial aid

Supplement with private scholarships

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