Get the best college financial aid
Gerri Willis helps you navigate the tricky path of financing a college degree.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Many students are now receiving their college acceptance letters and with that comes offers of financial aid. Here's how to compare your financial aid offers.
Getting the true cost of college can be a daunting task because comparing offers can be like comparing apples to oranges. Different colleges will have their figures and costs in different formats.
What you want to look for first is the "Expected Family Contribution." That's the bottom line - the amount of money your family will be expected to contribute.
Only you can judge whether you can afford this amount. But some colleges will include loans in your total financial aid package.
To get the true cost of any school, subtract out any loans from the financial aid package. Remember, these loans must be repaid says Kalman Chany of Campus Consultants.
1. What to look for
Here's what you'll need to layout side-by-side:
First, look at the specifics of loan offer -- like interest rates and repayment terms. These provisions can vary widely from loan to loan.
Next, you'll want to analyze affordability over time. Make sure you ask how your financial aid package will change over time. The aid offered in the senior year may look very different from what was offered for the freshman year.
And finally, look at the cost of attendance. Make sure you're looking at the big picture, including the cost of health care and transportation.
Generally speaking, you'll want to accept grants and scholarships first -- that's free money. Then accept the loans that are interest free while you're in school, like the Perkins or the Subsidized Stafford loan or any work-study. Take the Unsubsidized Stafford and lastly -- only if you have to -- consider private student loans says Chany.
2. Get more aid
Your financial aid package isn't set in stone.
You can always ask for an appeal. It's called a professional judgment review says Mark Kantrowitz of Finaid.org.
If something changed in your finances, like you lost your job or you overstated your income when filing the FAFSA, you have the right to determine whether to give you more aid.