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  • Stephanie Haynes

How to Navigate that Financial Aid Offer

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

Your teen has been accepted to college! Congratulations! Now how do you make sense of the financial packages each school is offering?

Much of the focus of your parenting these past three and a half years has most likely largely been based on getting your teen ready for this day. That familiar weight is now gone, but it has probably been replaced with a whole new unknown: What does all this financial aid offer information really mean?


How to Navigate that Financial Aid Offer

Simply put, when you filled out the FAFSA, you added in school codes for each college your teen applied to. Those colleges each got your financial information and made a determination about grants, scholarships, and loans in conjunction with your teen’s GPA, class rank, and any other criteria they may have chosen (each college operates a bit differently). They take all that information and send you their financial aid offer.


This first step is to define the type(s) of aid you received:

  • Grants are government-funded and do not have to be paid back.

  • Loans (either subsidized or unsubsidized) have to be paid back, but their payment is deferred until 6 months after your teen leaves school.

  • Scholarships do not have to be paid back but some are applied only once, some are applied all four years, and still others may be based on academic performance each year.

The second step is to determine how much your teen has to financially contribute to their education. You will need to determine exactly how much money they, and possibly you, are willing to supply to pay for college in addition to the financial aid each school provides.


The third step involves some math.

  1. Take the total amount of Financial Aid your teen has received per year, per college and multiply it by the number of years your teen will be in school (the average is 5 years…) (A).

  2. Then determine the total amount of Tuition per year times the number of years in school (B)

  3. Then determine the total amount for Room and Board expenses per year times the number of years in school (C).

  4. Then add the total of tuition and the total of room and board (B+C) and subtract the total amount of aid your student received (A).

The amount left over is what you/your teen will need to supply. If that total is within your budget, that school can be considered, If it is not, that school should be ruled out unless you teen and/or you are willing to take on additional debt to pay for it.


Here’s an example of the process for a teen who will need 4 years to complete their program:

  1. Total Financial Aid Assistance offered (Grants, Loans and Scholarships) (A): $18,000/year x 4 years = $72,000.

  2. Tuition/year (B): $24,000 x 4= $96,000.

  3. Room & board/year (C): $9,000 x 4 = $36,000.

  4. B+C= $132,000 - A ($72,000) = $60,000 that will need to be supplied

  5. Repeat this process for each school your student has been accepted to.

Just in case you are interested, if you are using student loans to pay for college it may be eye-opening for your teen to calculate their payment before deciding on a particular school. Use this tool to estimate your monthly payment and length of time to pay off that amount: https://smartasset.com/student-loans/student-loan-calculator


Remember, you have both worked hard to prepare for this day. While it may feel overwhelming at first, taking the time to look at the financial burden each college represents can actually make the decisions process easier.


And, once your decision is made, the real fun begins!


For more on navigating the post-high school process, please check our my other posts or subscribe to my exclusive High School Parent email list to get notifications of new posts, products, tools and programs designed to help you help your teen build the best possible pathway to success!


PS: My new book, College Is NOT Mandatory: A Parent's Guide to Navigating the Options Available to Our Kids After High School will be out soon! Subscribe today to be the first to have access!