Beginner’s Guide Part 1: Comparing Your College Offers

Are you a senior awaiting word from the colleges you applied to? The acceptance letters may already be rolling in! Soon it will be time to make a choice.

We firmly believe that the cost of a college should be one of the first things you look at. You will need to compare your college financial aid offers.

Alas, this can be confusing. There are important terms to learn. And colleges try to make their cost of attending look as low and as manageable as possible.

Read each financial aid offer very carefully. It’s up to you to figure out what each college will truly cost each year — and whether you and your family can afford the expense.

Here are some tips and videos to get you started. We’ll offer more tools in the coming weeks to help you make the best possible decision for your academic career and your wallet.


Start With the Basics

1. Get the big picture

Our FAFSA How-To Guide for High School Students is a great way to get started. Download the guide or learn how to compare college offers on your favorite device.

2. Read between the lines

We also like Federal Student Aid’s tip sheet: 13 Things to Know When Evaluating Your Financial Aid Offers. This 5-minute read is trustworthy and comprehensive with links for more help on the federal government’s website.

3. Use a college cost calculator

Looking for a calculator to accurately compare your college financial aid offers? We recommend uAspire’s free College Cost Calculator. You can figure out how much you will have to pay each year and compare those costs between colleges easily.


Learn More With Two (Short!) Videos

We know videos can be helpful when you’re trying to get the big picture. Here are two short videos to get you started. Both nonprofit organizations offer additional videos and tools to help you out.

VIDEO 1: Do You Know the Real Costs of College?

This video by College Money Matters helps you figure out what each college will really cost you. The website also offers a handy spreadsheet to help you crunch the numbers. Colleges will estimate your cost of attendance, but it’s up to you to come up with a truly accurate budget.



VIDEO 2: Understanding Financial Aid Award Letters

Student advisors working for the College Advising Corps walk you through the different terms you’ll see on your financial aid award letters so you have a better idea of what you’re looking at. You may also want to check out their other videos and their college budgeting sheet.



Visit College Websites

Be sure to visit the websites of the colleges you are comparing. The admissions or financial aid offices may have videos or instructions on how to read and consider their financial aid offers. Always get as much information as you can.