Got financial aid? How to compare your awards

As college decisions begin to arrive for the class of 2016, those who receive financial aid will also get their “award letter.” Colleges know not to bury the lead, so you’ll often see a bold line of text summarizing the total award package. Some colleges do a much better job of explaining this than others do, but that number doesn’t necessarily mean you can just subtract it from the sticker price of the college.

There are three types of financial aid, and they are not created equal—(1) grants and scholarships (which are free money that doesn’t have to be paid back), (2) loans, and (3) work-study program. That’s why the awards are typically called “packages.” The rest of the letter should explain the breakdown for the recipient.

If you’d like some help deciphering your award package so you can accurately compare it to what are hopefully offers from the many other colleges that have accepted you, Mark Kantrowitz, as usual, comes through with all the necessary information and advice here.