|I've been accepted at several colleges.
So you've finally made it into college. Congratulations!
Now all you've got to do is find a way to pay for it.
For lucky students with multiple financial aid offers on the table,
finding the best fiscal fit for your family isn't as simple as tallying
the offers. Covering the real cost of college is much more complicated
than just coughing up tuition, room and board. To make sure your
offer truly is as good as it looks on paper, consider these tips
on getting the most bang for your buck.
Find the hidden costs
You thought that the average $12,000 estimated cost of attendance
for a public university (a walloping $29,000 for a private college)
was all you'd have to worry about? Think again. Beyond the price
of tuition, room and board, students will also have to pony up for
student, lab, and library fees, books, travel, school supplies,
phone, Internet, laundry, photocopies, club dues and, of course,
the occasional night out on the town -- all costs that usually aren't
covered in the financial aid package.
"We estimate that families will pay about $2,400
in personal and miscellaneous expenses each year, but that's just
for our school," says Mark Warner, director of financial aid
for the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "How much a student
spends will depend on the location of the school and on the student's
Perhaps $2,400 is enough for students in Iowa, but
for those attending schools in such places as New York or Los Angeles,
the increased cost of living can easily raise that figure to $3,000
or $4,000, in addition to heftier room-and-board fees. To figure
out the hidden costs for each of your schools, ask your financial
aid officer for an estimate of how much the average student at that
school pays in miscellaneous expenses each year, and do some research
on the estimated cost of living for the area. If you need help comparing
locations, check out Bankrate's online cost-of-living
Look at the long term
Unfortunately you won't be paying for just one year of college,
but four. Whether your aid award can be renewed for all four years
of college will be crucial in determining your financial future.
According to Cynthia B. Deffenbaugh, financial aid director for
the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., students receiving
federal or private need-based scholarships, grants or loans (including
Pell grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants,
Stafford loans and Perkins loans) can generally expect their aid
offers to be renewed for all four years of school and to cover yearly
"If the family's financial situation stays approximately
the same, if they're Pell-eligible the first year, then they're
likely to be Pell-eligible the next years. That goes for all need-based
aid," she says. "Need-based aid is awarded depending on
the student's demonstrated financial need, and that need is going
to increase as the cost goes up."
Merit-based scholarships and grants such as school-
and community-sponsored awards, as well as funds won in national
scholarship competitions (including the National Merit Scholarship
program), may or may not be renewable and frequently are awarded
as fixed sums, so it's crucial to read the fine print and understand
exactly what you're receiving and for how long, says Deffenbaugh.
While you're muddling through the fine print, make
note of which requirements you'll need to fulfill in order to keep
the cash coming in. Merit-based-aid awards may be tied to your grade
point average, course load, choice of major, part-time job, membership
in a club or participation on a sports team, so you'll need to be
prepared to fulfill those obligations in order to maintain your
college cash supply. Each school's aid award summary sheet should
outline which awards are renewable, as well as any conditions you'll
need to fulfill. However, if you have a question, contact the school's
financial aid office immediately.