Jill Haley: I got accepted! Can I afford it? | TheUnion.com

Jill Haley: I got accepted! Can I afford it?

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

Seniors are now receiving the news of whether they have been accepted at the colleges to which they applied. Many are also receiving their financial aid award letters and deciding which college they can afford.

It is very important to review your award letter before accepting an offer of admission at a college. If you have not received your award letter by April 15, contact the financial aid office at the college.

When deciding on college affordability, it is important to know the total cost of attendance (COA) at each college. The COA is both direct costs (tuition, room and board), and indirect costs (books, travel and personal expenses.)

The COA varies greatly from college to college. If the award letter does not list the COA, look on the college website.

Many students look at their award letters and assume that the amount listed is what they will “get” to go to college. This is a mistake as the award could include student loans with interest as high as 6.4 percent.

They also need to compare the total cost of attendance with the award offer.

Colleges will “bundle” offers into a financial aid award offer. It is Important to know who is awarding the money. Is it the college or the federal government? If it lists a grant or scholarship, most likely it is free money that does not have to be paid back.

Loans will often be thrown into the award bundle. This money needs to paid back — with interest. It is important to know how much you will be borrowing and the different kinds of loans.

Federal subsidized loans will have the lowest interest and the most reasonable repayment plans. If a PLUS loan is in the award, this is for the parents and not the student.

Use the free financial aid comparison tool on CollegeBoard’s Big Future (bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/tools-calculators) to compare loans, interest rates and repayment plans.

If a student decides to take out a loan, how much loan is too much? This may depend on the student’s intended major. A student going into careers in science, engineering, technology or math (STEM) may be more comfortable taking out higher loan amounts than a student majoring in the arts.

Remember, you do not have to accept the loans in the award offer. If you do take out a loan, you must sign a master promissory note (MPN), which is a legal document mandating repayment. The federal government requires that the students take an online counseling session providing information of the rights and responsibilities associated with taking out a loan. Each college financial aid office is accountable to disburse the financial aid to the student. It is wise for students to get to know the counselors at these offices, who can be often invaluable in helping students get through the process.

National decision day is May 1. Students must submit the intent to register form by this date.

Congratulations and good luck!

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor, who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.

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