Is the financial aid offer good for four years?

Consumer Reports just came out with this piece, Having the College Money Talk: 10 key questions every family should discuss. While a good read for any family concerned about college costs, #4 is particularly important for senior families who are or will soon be reviewing their various offers of financial aid:

4. Are Financial Aid Offers Good for Four Years?
In what can seem like a bait and switch, some schools may offer more generous scholarships and grants to freshmen to entice them to enroll, but be aware that this money might not be fully renewable, says Kalman Chany, author of Paying for College Without Going Broke. “You need to know what strings are attached to get it every year,” says Chany. If you receive a merit-based scholarship, ask what the requirements are to qualify each year. You may need to maintain a certain GPA, for example. If you have a generous athletic scholarship, find out whether it continues if you sustain a career-ending injury, and have a contingency plan in case it doesn’t. Even if the amount of grants and scholarships stays the same for all four years, tuition is likely to rise, so the aid will cover less of the cost.

To maintain federal financial aid, you need to file the FAFSA each year. The amount of assistance you are eligible for can change if your financial circumstances change.