So you’ve gone through the financial aid process and received an aid package from a school. Now you must decide whether this is the best offer available and if it is worth attending that school. Financial aid packages are composed of three basic parts. These are scholarships, grants, and self-help.
Scholarships are awarded to a student by the college for academic or athletic achievement or participation. Different colleges award scholarships on different grounds. Some colleges will offer a scholarship based on high grades, high ACT/SAT scores, or both, regardless of financial need. Other schools may award the same scholarships, but only to students who have a low EFC, or expected family contribution. Also, scholarships usually come with provisions. With academic scholarships, a certain GPA needs to be maintained. For example, you could be awarded a full academic scholarship, but you would only continue receiving that money if you maintained a 3.5 GPA or higher. Athletic scholarships can also come with strings attached. That scholarship could be contingent on your full participation in the sports program. This could mean mandatory workouts, practices, and study sessions. Students should be aware of these contingencies so they can decide if the scholarship is indeed worth the effort.
Grants, on the other hand, are always based on need. Like scholarships, grants that are awarded are not paid back to the college by the student. Rules for keeping grant money are far less strict than those for scholarships. Usually a student only needs to attend the school to continue receiving grant money.
The last part of aid is self-help. Self-help includes things like student loans and work-study programs. Unlike scholarships and grants, these are not ‘given’ to the student. Student loans will help with costs, but they must be paid back later when the student graduates or leaves school. Work-study programs are basically jobs provided by the school. However, these jobs count towards your financial aid. These three parts of the package are then added to your EFC to equal the total cost of attending the college.
After you understand the components of your financial aid package, there are two things you need to do. One, you need to examine the parts of your aid and see if there is any room for improvement. Is there anyway you can get more help from the college? After you know your final deal, you then you need to weigh the cost of attending the college against its benefits.
Look at each school’s offer in this manner to decide the value of that college. After that, it is up to you to make the big decision of where to go.