If you are applying for financial aid at more than one school, you may receive several offers of aid. Take a close look at the offers and compare:
The COA. The more expensive a school is, the more financial aid you may need to make ends meet. A high cost of attendance may not be a problem as long as you can pay for it. Make sure you know what items are included in the cost of attendance, and compare the figures with your own estimates.
The EFC. Remember, the EFC is not financial aid. It is the amount you and your parents are expected to pay for your education. You and/or your parents may be able to borrow an educational loan to help come up with the Expected Family Contribution.
The total financial aid package. Remember that grants and scholarships are gifts; you do not have to pay them back or work for them if you fulfill the obligation. Compare the total gift aid (grants and scholarships) to the cost of attendance. A high amount of gift aid in the package may mean you will not have to borrow or work as much to meet your expenses. If you need to borrow, remember that the terms and conditions of educational loans can vary. Make sure you understand the terms and the costs (i.e., interest rate, loan fees, and repayment schedule) of each loan you are offered.
Unmet financial need. If the aid package does not contain enough money to cover all your financial need, you will have to come up with the difference, in addition to the EFC. This may mean you need to borrow more or find a part-time job.
Restrictions or conditions of the award. Look carefully at the things you must do to receive and keep your financial aid.
Beware of the bottom line. The total amount of aid in your package is not necessarily the most important figure. Consider the whole package, starting with the cost of attendance. Subtract the financial aid offer from the cost of attendance to see exactly how much you and your family will have to pay, then decide. Remember that the largest aid offer may not be the least expensive option. This is because the COA varies as does the individual composition of each financial aid package.