How to Compare Your Financial Aid Awards - COLLEGEdata - Pay Your Way
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How to Compare Your Financial Aid Awards

Comparing aid packages from different colleges can be tricky. Read these tips to help you compare apples to apples.

And you thought your anxiety was over after you were accepted! Deciphering your aid awards can be just as stress producing. Here's how to calmly make an educated and affordable college choice.

Be Sure the COA Contains the Same Elements for Each College

Your starting point is the college's cost of attendance (COA). The standard components of a college's COA are

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies
  • Local transportation
  • Personal expenses

If the college does not show the components of its COA or does not show all components, ask the financial aid office for a full breakdown. Add up the components to get the complete COA.

Add Up All Gift Aid and Self-Help Aid for Each College

For each award letter, identify every item as either gift aid (merit aid, grants, and scholarships) or self-help aid (loans and work-study). Then calculate the total amount of gift aid and the total amount of self-help aid. If it's not clear whether an award is gift aid or self-help aid, ask the college right away. For example, loans may not be clearly labeled.

Make sure that all the merit-based aid the college offered you appears in your award letter. If not, add this aid to your gift aid amount.

Figure the Net Price for Each College

Once you know each school's entire COA and the total amount of gift and self-help aid, you can compare the net price of each college. Simply subtract the total gift aid from each college's cost of attendance. Ignore what the award letter says you will pay and rely on your own calculations.

Figure How Much Debt You Would Take On

To understand how much debt you might be signing up for, add up the loan self-help aid offered by each college, plus any other loans you might get in order to cover your unmet need and your EFC.

Your Aid Offer Is Not Forever

Bear in mind that financial aid offers are for freshman year only and contain no promises about what your financial aid will be in future years. Ask the college what it takes to keep your awards throughout college.

Ultimately, you may not choose the college with the lowest net price or the college that will put you in the least amount of debt, but knowing your net price can help you make an informed college decision.

What's Next?

Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.

For Students Age 18 and Older

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1st Financial Bank believes students who pick colleges wisely will also want to learn how to use credit cards wisely.

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COLLEGEdata Dollars are
points you earn by
completing certain
COLLEGEdata activities

Ways to earn
COLLEGEdata Dollars:

  • Complete your Admissions Profile.
  • Add colleges to your College Choices.
  • Update your Admissions Statuses.
  • Use the College Match tool.

What are COLLEGEdata Dollars (CD$)?

COLLEGEdata Dollars (CD$) are points you earn by completing certain COLLEGEdata activities. The maximum number of CD$ you can redeem is 5000. Once you have earned at least 2500 CD$, you can redeem them for $25, which will be provided to you on a Loyalty Card, and once you earn another 2500 CD$, you can redeem those CD$ for a second $25, which will also be provided to you on a Loyalty Card.

Earn points and redeem them for
U.S. Dollars

Complete certain COLLEGEdata activities (for example, signing up, starting your Admissions Profile, searching for colleges, calculating your chances for admission, searching for scholarships, updating your Profile with your admission decisions). Each activity is worth a specific amount of points (CD$). You can redeem the points you earn for U.S. Dollars that will be issued to you in the form of a 1st Financial Bank USA Loyalty Mastercard®.

How do I earn COLLEGEdata Dollars?

You can earn CD$ by completing certain COLLEGEdata activities. As soon as you sign up and activate your COLLEGEdata account, explore COLLEGEdata and begin completing COLLEGEdata activities to earn points.

Here is a full list of COLLEGEdata activities for which you may earn CD$ and the number of CD$ you can earn by completing each activity.*

Activity
CD$
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+ CD$
You just earned COLLEGEdata Dollars!
Check your CD$ Dashboard at the bottom of the page to view your CD$ balance, find other activities that you can complete to earn CD$, and redeem the CD$ you have earned for U.S. Dollars.