Step 5 – Financial Aid – Determine Your Bottom Line

Step 5 – Determine Your Bottom Line

You know the cost of tuition. But what is college really going to cost you? Here are some tools to help you determine your bottom line.

Use the FAFSA4caster

FAFSA4caster will help you understand your options for paying for college.

All you do is provide some basic information and they will estimate your eligibility for federal student aid. Your estimate will be shown in the “College Cost Worksheet” where you can also provide estimated amounts of other student aid and savings that can go towards your college education.

Understanding Cost of Attendance

Your financial aid package, outlined in your award letter, will be based on the college’s Cost of Attendance (COA) and your personal Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

The COA is the total amount it will cost a student to go to school – usually expressed as a yearly figure. It’s determined using rules established by law.

The COA includes:

  • tuition and fees
  • on-campus room and board (or a housing and food allowance for off-campus students)
  • allowances for books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and, if applicable, dependent care
  • costs related to a disability
  • miscellaneous expenses, including an allowance for the rental or purchase of a personal computer.

Keep in mind that the COA is an estimated cost. Some elements of the COA may not be as high for all students. You can lower your actual cost of attendance by doing everything you can to save on travel expenses, textbooks, and other miscellaneous costs associated with going to college.

Calculate your cost of college attendance with our Cost of College Calculators.

Tips for saving on Textbooks:

1)     When possible, buy books through online discount sites. There are lots of them. Some work as auction sites (kind of like eBay). Others do direct sales. Others are trade sites. You can get books for half the cost at times, but buyer beware!

  • Professors often require specific editions, so make sure you are buying the right book. Use the ISBN number if you have it.
  • Also, you need to order books early, as they often take a while to ship. You don’t want to miss the first few assignments, because you don’t have a book.

2)     Take advantage of e-books if you can. Sometimes professors only require you to read one or two chapters of a book. If the book is available as an e-book, you may be able to purchase only the chapter you need for much less than the entire book.

3)     Take care of your books and sell them back to the bookstore. You won’t recoup all your cost, but you’ll make back a little.

4)     Take advantage of textbook exchanges through the college.

Financial Aid Award Letter

Once you’ve been admitted to college and you’ve applied for financial aid, you will receive an Award Letter from the college. The Award Letter will explain how much and what types of aid you’ve qualified for. It will list the following:

  • Gift aid (money that you don’t have to repay, such as grants and scholarships)
  • Loans (money that must be repaid)
  • Work-study positions you may qualify for

 See a Sample Award Letter.