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Comparing college financial aid offers

It’s that time of year. College acceptance letters along with financial aid offers are coming in the mail. Families with kids headed to college have about seven weeks to compare offers and make a decision.

That financial aid letter shows the price of one year's tuition, along with any grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study programs that might bring down that cost.

Consumer Reports says financial aid letters can be confusing, partly because there are no standard forms or terms that describe the assistance. Here's what the editors suggest you want to do:

Figure out your total expenses. For some schools, the “total cost” figure is only for tuition, fees, room and board. Others include books, transportation, school activity fees and living expenses. If the school didn't include them, you need to. Then subtract grants and scholarships to give you’re the amount you’ll need to pay.

Consumer Reports says if the math doesn't work out, ask for more financial aid. The school may be willing to be a bit more generous if you have a better offer from a comparable school. They may also be willing to reconsider if there's been a major change in your life since you submitted your application, such as your parents divorced or the family income dropped for some reason.

More Info: How to Decode Your College Financial Aid Offer

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