Part Two on Comparing Financial Aid Awards

Diane Stemper, Executive Director of Financial Aid at The Ohio State University, returns today with the second of a two-part post on comparing financial aid awards so that students and their families can be wise consumers and better understand what they are being offered and signing on for. Yesterday Stemper laid out the vocabulary and content of financial aid award letters along with a step-by-step plan for comparing aid awards. You can see Part One of Stemper's post here. Today, she has more advice for students and families on understanding aid awards as smart consumers, as well as guidance for interacting with financial aid offices and a resource list for tools that can help families in the comparison process.

Be Aware:

·         Colleges may state they meet “full need” – sounds great, but how much of that is loans?

·         Are parent loans listed as part of the financial aid award?  If so, it may look like you have sufficient financial aid to meet your costs, but part of this could be debt that your parents are incurring on top of your own student loan debt.

·         The award letter is only for one year – ask whether scholarships are renewable and what the renewal criteria is (i.e. grade point average; full time status).

·         Remember that the loan amount that you borrow is an estimate of how much you will borrow each year, so calculate what the total loan commitment will be when you graduate.

·         Manage your borrowing: remember that you can control your personal costs. What you borrow today will need to be repaid from future earnings.

·         Gapping:  The financial aid offered by many schools may leave a gap between the cost of attendance and your financial aid offer that is larger than your expected family contribution.  This may require you to find additional funds on your own.

·         If your family’s financial circumstances have recently changed, contact the school to see if you can update your information to more appropriately reflect your situation.

·         If the aid offer falls short of what you need, it’s okay to talk to the school to see if they have any other aid available.  Be prepared to talk about how much you can contribute and the amount of additional assistance that will make the school an affordable choice.  However, refrain from a “negotiating” approach, as most schools will not respond in a positive way when asked to compete with other offers.


There are many tools and websites available to compare financial aid awards:

·         A net price calculator is listed on each college’s website and can assist you in determining direct costs, indirect costs and net price.  It also will provide information about scholarship policies.

·         Other websites:

US Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency Center --  Compares estimated college costs and connects you to institutions’ net price calculators.

College Board Big Future -- College Board Calculator provides a tool to compare costs by listing each school’s costs and financial aid to arrive at the family’s share costs.

HESC Financial Aid Award Packages Comparison Chart -- Many states provide a calculator for comparison so check your home state’s website – this is an example for New York State.


Diane L. Stemper, Executive Director of Student Financial Aid at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, oversees one of the largest student aid delivery systems in the country, providing approximately $1Billion annually in assistance to over 50,000 students. Ms. Stemper brings to this position over 25 years of experience in student financial assistance at both private and public institutions, including positions at Arizona State University, Miami University (Ohio), The College of Wooster, and The Pennsylvania State University. As President and CEO of ELM Resources from 2003 – 2006, she led the largest education loan data exchange and disbursement company in the nation.

Ms. Stemper holds a Master of Public Administration from the Pennsylvania State University, and received her BA from Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.

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