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April is trying for high school seniors

March 31, 2003|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

April is a taxing month, by anyone's standards. But it may be even more trying for high school seniors.

Many colleges and universities have begun sending "offer" letters to students who have applied for financial assistance and been accepted for their incoming freshman class. Offer letters detail the cost of tuition and fees plus the amount of financial aid available through the school.

Students who are accepted and have received financial aid offers from more than one school now need to compare the offers, make a choice and accept the offer from the school that best fits their needs and their budgets.

It's likely that your teen has already been making choices and ranking schools while deciding which ones to visit and where to apply. But now it gets down to some final choices.

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When my kids were making these choices, they made a list of the pros and cons of each school and the key factors that needed to go into their decision.

Two factors that influenced their decisions, and will likely influence the decision of your student, were the annual net cost of attending each school and the annual cash outlay required of the family.

To determine these, you might want to make a chart listing each

school and including the following:

(A) Estimated Annual Expenses

  • Tuition.

  • Fees.

  • Room.

  • Board/meal plan.

  • Travel.

  • Estimated price of books and supplies.

  • Personal expenses.


(B) Total Gift Aid (aid that does not need to be repaid)

  • Grants and scholarships .

  • Other gift aid.


(C) Net Price = AB

(D) Work study/job offers

(E) Loans to be repaid

  • Federal Stafford or direct loans.

  • Federal Perkins loan.

  • Other student loans.


(F) Cash Outflow = (C-[D+E])

If you have the information and are really ambitious, you'll probably want to make a chart that covers all four years. However, most schools won't yet be able to tell you their tuition and fees for the 2004-05 school year or beyond.

Other expenses usually increase, too. You may want to add at least a 5 percent to 10 percent increase to each successive year's totals.

It's essential to make sure you are aware of the terms of any financial aid offers.

Financial aid is limited to a specific period of time and may not be renewable. In the case of federal, state and many institutional aid programs, you are required to reapply each year.

Nearly every scholarship also carries with it an obligation to carry a minimum course load and to maintain a minimum grade point average.

It's important to read all financial aid documents carefully and understand their terms and conditions. The same goes for loans.

Parents and students should try to complete this chart together. Helping students understand the costs of an education will prepare them to manage their own expenses in the future.

Once you have completed the chart, sit down and discuss the pros and cons of each school along with the financial considerations. Take the nontangible factors (the feelings about the school and the environment) into account, as well as the tangible factors (cost, course offerings). Listen and give feedback from your perspective.

Realize, however, that the decision is ultimately your student's, not yours.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Do you have a question you want answered in a future column? E-mail Rose at AskRose@act.org.

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