Love him or hate him, you have to give President Obama credit for his efforts to make the true cost of college easier to understand for students and their parents. A major part of this plan is the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. This sheet is designed to make it very easy for families to understand the actual cost of attendance and financial aid awards available through a variety of schools. Knowing this information will make it easier than ever for students to compare schools and to choose the one that is most affordable and that offers the best value.
About the Sheet
The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet starts out with the costs of attending the school. It then takes into account any scholarships, grants, financial aid, and loans available to the student. The information is carefully calculated and students are presented with an estimate of the monthly payments they would be responsible for after graduation. The sheet will also include the graduation rate and loan default rate of the school for easy reference.
Why It Isn’t Perfect
Although this sheet is a tremendous step in the transparency that college students and their families so desperately need, it is far from perfect. One of the major flaws is the fact that schools are encouraged to use the sheet, but are not required to do so by law. As such, many private schools may refuse to use the sheet because it may make them look less desirable. In addition, some schools may feel that a simple formula may not truly consider everything they look at when making financial aid awards, or they may not want to be judged by average numbers.
Another problem is that every student has a unique situation. While countless families may have the same level of income, they are likely to have vastly different assets. In addition, students will have varying levels of academic and athletic ability and financial need. Students must also consider much more information than is included in the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet when choosing the perfect school. It really doesn’t matter who has the highest graduation and lowest default rates if the student is miserable and takes longer than four years to earn a degree. So how can you make sure you are getting the best deal on college?
While the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet should definitely be a resource in your decision making, there is much more to the process than just using the sheet. First, take the time to make sure you are choosing the school that is the best financial and academic fit. Next, you must do everything possible to make yourself desirable to colleges so they will offer you the best financial aid package. Schools are highly competitive when it comes to landing the best students. Finally, make sure you fill out and submit all financial aid forms by the deadline, including the FAFSA. Negotiate your financial aid package with the college of your choice and don’t be afraid to use offers from other schools to help your cause.
While the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet can make college costs more transparent, it is but one tool in your quest to getting the best possible deal. Take the time to play out all of your resources and you will get a deal with which you can be truly happy.