Congratulations! You got accepted into several schools, and each offered you some financial aid. When you compare the offers, it’s important to make apples-to-apples comparisons. The first thing to figure out is, did you get funded aid or unfunded aid?

Funded aid consists of grants and scholarships. Funded aid reduces the cost of going to college. Unfunded aid is loans and work-study. Unfunded aid provides ways to get the money to attend college. Funded aid is far more valuable. Many times an aid offer will include both types of aid.

Offer in hand, you can determine your total cost to attend a school. Total cost is:

Direct costs of attending, including

  • Tuition & mandatory fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies

Plus other costs, including

  • Transportation to and from your school
  • Dorm needs and décor
  • Sports or event tickets, memberships, etc.

Minus

  • Funded aid

So let’s say a school’s direct costs are $46,000, other costs total $2,500, and you got an aid package including a $15,000 scholarship and $5,500 in a Stafford loan. Your total cost is $46,000 + $2,500 – $15,000 = $33,500. Don’t subtract the Stafford loan from your cost of attendance because you still have to pay for it. And remember: you can turn down a portion of your aid offer without impacting the rest. You’re not required to take the loan that the school offers.