Hallelujah! Universe be praised! Let the pigeons loose!
All the work and sacrifice – applications completed, essays written, weekends lost, and joy-filled NetFlix binges missed… has finally paid off. THEY want you! Colleges want you! The golden ticket with notice of admission has been issued to you and now all you need to do is select which fabulous school you and your pet goldfish will head to in September.
Or is it?
Actually, now is time again to take a step back… way back to the beginning and remember our discussion regarding “What makes a Best Fit school for you?” Remember our podcast on the components of a Best Fit school? Of course you do. Remember the part about finances, financial aid, scholarships and grants, student loans, compound interest, the ramifications of long-term debt and going to school on OPM --- Other-Peoples-Money? Of course you do.
Okay, getting accepted is a very important first step. Now we have come full circle and it is time to look at the fine print and finances of your Acceptance Letter. In the words of Tom Waits, “Step Right Up – the small print taketh away what the big print giveth.”
First, what IS an acceptance letter and what information is usually included?
The first line is usually “We regrettably…” which honestly, is not the best way to start, or “We are happy to inform you…” and then some nice fluffy language about unicorns and rainbows and how impressed the school was with you lion taming experience and other clown skills. If it is the later, then there will also be a list of “Next Steps” to claim your spot and prepare your journey to campus in the Spring. And then… some information about how much the “luxurious dorm rooms and world-class dining halls” are going to cost.
Among these important steps will also be things like:
· If you need to send an academic transcript (usually you do)
· If you need to send a deposit and how much (usually you do)
· Meal plan information
· Dorm and other living information
· Freshman orientation
· Deadlines for submitting all paperwork (PAY ATTENTION!)
And then, THIS is where you really want to pay attention…Financial Aid, if listed (it usually is.)
Remember THE equation to keep in mind….
ACOA (Actual COA) = COA – OPM (scholarships/grants) + $avings
No, really, what is the ACTUAL Cost of Attendance?
Okay, this is easier to identify than you think.
Cost of Attendance (COA) = X
· Tuition (in or out of state?)
· Room/Board/Books and Fees
· Travel stipend and hamster food
- Schools are required to have the COA for their students on-line.
- Google “School Name + Cost of Attendance”
Scholarships and Grants = Y
Subtract Y from X + $avings = ACTUAL Cost of Attendance.
If you have done Early Decision – the game is done. You are legally bound to go to that school and the amount of money/financial aid listed—if any—is what they will give you to attend. Even if that amount is zero. While you may provide evidence of hardship and need, it is rare to get an increased financial aid package with an ED acceptance. A danger of ED is giving away bargaining leverage.
If you have gone the Early Acceptance route – you either applied to one Early Acceptance school, or a couple, depending on specific school restrictions. Either way, you have some time and bargaining power to influence your financial aid package offer. If the financial aid package offered is not within your budget and you feel you have significant need beyond the school’s offer, you can write a letter requesting a review of your specific situation and needs and a higher financial aid award. That letter should be filled with supporting information including financial aid offers from other schools as well as a well-crafted and convincing reason why U of X is THE best school for you.
Pay specific attention to each piece of your financial aid package and ask three important questions:
1. How much is the award actually for?
2. How many years is the award for? Is it only for one, or is it for four years?
3. What are the requirements to maintain the award? GPA? Recommendations? Updated transcripts? Evidence of growth?
Now, if you have received multiple acceptances you have come full circle and need to… start from the beginning. You need to ask yourself “Why do I want to go to college?” and “What do I want to learn?” If you did this authentically when identifying your college application list, it will be easy to apply your answers to these final contenders:
Which school provides the BEST FIT?
- Programs match your needs, goals and aspirations
- The school has the culture, size, location, grilled cheese sandwiches you feel will support your success
- The ACOA will keep you from going into unhealthy debt
We wish you the best on your new adventure ahead!