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5 Things Parents Should Know About Financial Aid Offers

Your student filed the FAFSA and just received the first financial aid offer from a college. Your student may be happy as this is yet another step in the process taking them ever closer to move-in day. But before accepting admission, it's important you take a look to ensure the offered financial aid is right for your family's situation. Here are a few things to consider when reviewing your student's aid offer.

Financial aid offers can come in a variety of formats.

If your student receives financial aid offers from multiple colleges, they may not look the same. This can make comparing costs and offered aid a bit tricky and confusing, but there are ways to get an accurate comparison.

It's important to compare like costs and like offered aid. Consider additional listed costs or aid separately. If you get confused, using a spreadsheet or table that breaks down amounts might help. ICAN has a downloadable Compare College Costs worksheet available at, as well as other materials to help you understand aid packages.

Colleges often include the maximum available federal student and parent loans in the offer.

If you have other means to pay, such as newly anticipated income, savings, gifts or a 529 college savings plan, you can decline the offered loans entirely or update the offered loan amounts to a lesser value. You don't have to accept the full amount of the loans.

Loans listed on the offer could include federal PLUS loans for parents.

These loans allow parents to supplement the student's offered aid to better cover the cost of attendance. These loans enter repayment immediately and are entirely the responsibility of the parent — not the student. Be sure to review your student's offer carefully and discuss loan options and responsibilities.

You may notice offered aid doesn't fully cover all costs.

You have some options when it comes to covering the remaining costs. First, contact the school's financial aid office and inform them of your situation. They may be able to offer monthly payment plans or suggest other options such as private student loans.

When reviewing your student's offer, keep in mind that other costs will come up during the course of your student's college career.

Financial aid offers often do not take into consideration additional or extra costs. Other costs that may not be included in the offer are spending money if your student chooses to attend concerts, sporting events or other activities. Organizations your student chooses to join may also come with membership fees not detailed in the offer. Be sure you or your student have some extra money set aside for these situations.

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