We won’t be seeing any financial aid award letters for a while; we cannot complete the FAFSA until it’s released at the beginning of January, letters would be expected sometime around the 1st of April. However, given what I’ve been reading about aid letters, I’ve started to think about how to compare apples and oranges (and, say, monkeys). Through a College Solution post on confusing financial award letters (referenced in point #11 here), I found an incredibly resourceful site: Financial Aid Letter.
Financial Aid Letter has not been updated in a while, but what’s there is “choice.”
1. Most entertaining and interactive bit: see actual aid letters before and after decoding and grading by financial aid evaluators. Here’s a look at a grade B- letter and a grade D letter. Please note these are from 2007, so the ‘true costs’ would be higher today.
A few financial aid officers objected to the one-size-fits-all evaluation; those objections can be found at the bottom of this page.
2. Most Valuable Financial Aid Glossary I’ve yet run across. Go see this now. Bookmark or Digg or Evernote it. Here’s a clip:
Georgia Hope: The state of Georgia’s Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally program gives scholarships to Georgia students with good grades. For the official Georgia HOPE website, click here.
GPA: Grade Point Average: The number reflecting a student’s grades (where an A is counted as a 4, a B = 3, and so on) divided by the number of classes taken. GPAs are used to award many merit scholarships.
Grace period: The length of time a lender has agreed to wait for payment on a loan or bill. Different educational loans have different grace periods. Perkins borrowers must start repaying their loans within nine months of leaving school or dropping to below half-time. Plus borrowers must make their first payment within 60 days. Stafford borrowers must make their first payment within six months of leaving school or dropping below half-time. Private or Alternative loans typically have much shorter grace periods.
Grant: A gift of money. Much of the free money handed out to cover educational costs is in the form of grants. The federal government hands out to undergraduates Pell Grants, Supplementary Educational Opportunity Grants, SMART Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants and more. States hand out Cal Grants, North Carolina Student Incentive Grants, etc. Charities and schools also hand out many grants. The word is often used interchangeably with scholarship. See also gift aid.
N.B., Financial aid funding laws and regulations are subject to change over time. I don’t know if the glossary has been updated to reflect any changes; double-check information with current resources.
3. Sensible Action Advice with multi-point answers to these questions:
- Can’t figure out how much school is really going to cost?
- Having trouble estimating yoru true cost of a degree?
- Has the school overestimated your ability to pay?
- Has your favorite school awarded less aid than other schools?
- Can’t afford your true costs?
Credit goes to Kim Clark and Paul Jaegersen who developed this as an experiment in conjunction with Ohio State University’s Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs. Ms. Clark used to write for US News & World Report; she now writes about college financial aid for Money magazine. Here’s a recent article, What you can do to save on college costs. [See link to slideshow mention of Piedmont Virginia Community College here.]
- Take First Step to Apply for College Financial Aid (usnews.com)
- College Financial Aid Myths (drstrangecollege.wordpress.com)