College admission season is well underway. Schools with rolling admissions have been notifying high school seniors of their admissions status for a few months now. Beginning is late March, and culminating on April 1st, when many schools notify their applicants, seniors will face one of the most important decisions of their young lives -- which school do they attend?
Financial aid is often one of the more important aspects of a college's offer of admission, but it can be very difficult to compare one school's offer with another because of the way each school determines family financial need and how they propose to meet that need. To address this situation, the Department of Education has proposed that colleges and universities use a common template for presenting their financial aid packages in next year's admissions cycle.
The template is optional, so school's still out (if you can forgive the pun) on whether the template will be accepted by enough colleges and universities to make the idea work, but the template has some definite pluses. It clearly indicates what the family's Expected Financial Contribution (EFC) will be, and shows how the school plans to offset these costs with federal aid, merit aid, work study and family contributions. It breaks loans out into an entirely separate section, highlighting the fact that loans are NOT aid. The template makes it much easier to compare the net costs of attending one school with another; differences that can be tens of thousands of dollars apart.
For this year's senior class, it will be harder to compare offers, since there is no unified system. Just remember -- loans, work study and summer earnings are not financial aid and are not guaranteed to offset the cost of the college experience.
To learn more, click here for a link to the federal financial aid template.