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Financial Aid Award Letters May Not Tell Whole Story

April 13, 2010

college cashFamilies are just beginning to receive news of financial aid packages from colleges and universities, but experts caution that details should be clarified before committing to one particular institution.

The Auburn Journal in California notes that parents should contact a school's financial aid office to confirm that all awards are "renewable." This means that the aid will be available all four years of college if the required grade point average is maintained and family income does not significantly increase.

"If scholarship and grant awards are non-renewable," warns the Journal, "you can only receive them freshman year."

In addition, parents should ask what the minimum GPA is for keeping scholarships and grants throughout college. According to the Journal, many colleges offer generous scholarships and grants in freshman year knowing that students will often be unable to maintain the minimum GPA to continue receiving aid. The best awards require students to maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA while taking at least 12 course units.

Dan Davenport, director of student financial aid for the University of Idaho, told Bankrate.com that students should also be sure to confirm whether the award will increase with tuition hikes.

"When we give financial aid, we give it one year at a time and they need to reapply for it every year," he explained. "Award letters don't give multiyear information on Pell grants, federal or Stafford loans, so you're not really seeing a full financial picture."

Chris Vaughn, director of new student financial planning at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, noted that parents should not be fooled by what appears to be a more generous PLUS loan offer from one institution.

"The PLUS loan is a federal loan all parents can take out if they pass a credit check," he told Bankrate.com. "Some schools list it as financial aid and some don't. So if one school is offering a $20,000 PLUS loan and another isn't, it doesn't really mean you're getting more aid."

Perhaps most importantly, experts advise parents not to be shy about asking for more aid. Rebecca Jarvis told CBS News that when negotiating financial packages, students should mention higher aid offers received from different schools, favorable SAT or ACT scores that are above the college's average, any special talents, and especially any major change in income.

Jarvis emphasized that students and parents should speak to the highest level of authority as soon as possible in order to procure more student aid. "The main thing is not to talk to an operator," she said. "You don't want to get turned away by someone to keep the volume down. . . . Don't be embarrassed about doing this. A college won't decline you based on asking and you will regret not getting anything off the price tags."


Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman

Sources:

"How to Get the Most Financial Aid for College," CBS News, April 13, 2010

"Three MUST-DO's Before Accepting Admission," Auburn Journal, April 12, 2010

"What's Not in a Financial Aid Award Letter," Bankrate.com, March 24, 2010, Christina Couch

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