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Articles / Applying to College / Is my college offering me a good financial aid package?

Feb. 10, 2002

Is my college offering me a good financial aid package?

Question: How can I know if a college is offering me a good financial aid package?

Along with those welcome letters of college acceptance come the financial aid packages. Some can be impressive; others are disappointing.

In previous columns here, we've talked about the term "meeting your full demonstrated need." That means a college or university comes up with a financial aid package that supplies you with the full difference between your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the full student budget for the current school year.

The EFC is calculated by the College Scholarship Service (CSS) in Princeton, New Jersey. Every family with an aspiring college student is required to fill out a form called the CSS Profile. The Profile provides details of the family's financial resources. The form's information is processed by the CSS and an EFC is generated and reported to all the schools to which the student is applying. The financial aid offices of those schools then undertake to prepare a package of scholarships, loans, and jobs that covers most--if not all--of your demonstrated need.

When you receive your package, take note of what percentage is loans versus the percentage of grants and scholarships. Grants and scholarships don't have to be repaid; loans do. A general rule of thumb is that the higher-priced, selective, liberal-arts colleges and universities tend to give a higher percentage of scholarships and grants. Public institutions general supply less financial aid because they are being supported, in part by tax dollars and are subject to state funding ups and (mostly) downs.

If you have been accepted by both a public university and a private college or university, check the bottom line carefully. It is entirely possible that you may be able to go to a private school costing twice as much (or more) for about the same, or even less, money. It sounds illogical, but it happens every year. That's the difference among financial aid packages.

Most importantly, don't be afraid to call the respective financial aid offices at the schools to which you've been admitted. They'll be happy to explain what their packages mean.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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