Comparing Your Financial Aid Offers

Comparing Your Financial Aid Offers

Financial aid offers make college possible for many students across the country. But not all are created equal. It is essential to make an apple to apple comparison when it comes to financial aid packages to make the best decisions about your higher education options.

What Types of Financial Aid are Available?

Financial aid comes in many different styles and can include support from your college or university, the federal government, or private sources. These are some of the types of financial assistance that may be included in your financial aid offer.

  • Grants. These are monies from your college or university, the federal or state government, or private resources that do not have to be repaid. There may be certain grade requirements attached, but the money can be used to pay for tuition, book fees, room and board, and other living expenses.
  • Student loans. There are several federal student loan programs available to help fund your education. Depending on qualification factors, they can come in either subsidized or unsubsidized options. There are also options for both student or parent borrowers. Numerous financial institutions also have private funding available for educational loans. Some universities or colleges and some states may also offer student loan programs.
  • Scholarships. Another resource that comes in all shapes and sizes. These are often funded by endowments for students who show outstanding academic promise, have been active in civic and volunteer activities, or have specific performance or sports talents. There are also college and university-specific scholarships students might wish to apply for as well.
  • Work study programs. In addition to the federal work-study program, many colleges and universities offer on-campus jobs to students to help them fund their educations.

While other financial aid types are available, these are the most common financial aid types available today.

What Is a Good Financial Aid Offer?

The best financial aid offers are those that allow you to proceed with and complete your college education with the least amount of debt. If you must take on debt, it is best to prioritize subsidized debt over unsubsidized debt.

The sad truth is that most people cannot fund their complete college education with grants and scholarships alone. Rising tuition and on-campus housing costs have created a scenario in which most grant programs are insufficient to meet students’ needs over four years. Consider that many students require five years to complete all course requirements, and those expenses are even more significant.

That means you must compare financial aid offers that consider a wide range of information in addition to the cost of tuition, such as:

  • Out of state fees if applicable
  • Student fees
  • On or off-campus housing costs
  • Food costs
  • Technology fees
  • Books
  • Computers
  • Furniture
  • Utilities (if applicable)
  • Cable and Internet (if applicable)

Loans exist to fill in the gaps that grants, scholarships, and work-study programs leave open in your educational funding needs. They should be approached cautiously and used only when necessary. The best financial aid packages offer you the option to use few if any, student loans for your education.

Which Offer Is Better?

Because some grants, scholarships, and work-study offers are college-specific, you will have to compare packages individually to determine which best meets your needs. You will need to do a little homework to compare the cost of attending the various colleges and universities, including living expenses in and around the college.


The financial aid landscape can be tricky to maneuver, especially for students just beginning to explore their financial aid options. These tips can help you make better-informed decisions about which college you attend, the financial aid you accept, and even where you live while attending college.