Ohio State's Executive Director of Financial Aid on Financial Aid Awards: Part One

Different colleges cost different amounts, present their costs in different ways, and offer different amounts of fiancial aid in different combinations. This can make it difficult to understand which combination of price and student aid award is best.Diane Stemper, Executive Director of Financial Aid at The Ohio State University, joins us today for the first 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.

During 30 years as a financial aid director, I have worked at several different colleges and universities, creating and revising award letters at each and every school.  Financial aid offices across the country engage in the same activity, striving to provide a clear message in the financial aid award letter and often approaching it in a slightly different manner.  The result is that letters from different institutions often do not look the same.  How do you understand this land of acronyms and abbreviations?  And more importantly, how do you understand what the cost will be to you and how do you compare this for various institutions as you make your very important college choice decision? 

Basic Definitions:

There are a few basic definitions that will assist you in sorting out the information:

Coming to Terms with What Colleges Expect You to Pay

We're pleased to share with you today an excellent piece by W. Kent Barnds, Vice President of Enrollment, Communication and Planning at Augustana College. Barnds sheds always welcome light on the concept and reality of the EFC or Expected Family Contribution, showing how it is possible that a student with an EFC of $15,000 and considering three colleges with the same price might be expected to pay $19,500 at one and $9,500 at another.

Who should file the FAFSA?

One of our readers posted a great question in response to a recent blog item, If You Applied Early.. Or not...

Bill wrote:

My son, a high school senior, applied to an out-of-state public college this fall (rolling admission) and has been accepted for Fall, 2012. In addition, he recently received from them a merit based scholarship that will make up a lot of the difference between in-state vs. out-of-state tuition. We see no reason to apply for financial aid through FAFSA, as the EFC calculations show us contributing more than it costs per year. I don’t see it worth going through the hassle. Do you agree?

Bill, first and foremost, check with the financial aid office at the college to which your son has been accepted.  While some colleges will tell you there is no need to file the FAFSA, other colleges will want -- or may require -- you to file the FAFSA so that they have it on record. You will want to be sure to fulfill all the requirements at the college where your son has been awarded the scholarship so that his award remains in good standing.