Not all financial aid awards—or all financial aid award letters—are created equal. Financial aid can come in several forms, from free money that doesn’t need to be paid back, to loans, to work study programs. There’s no standardized way to present the award elements to families, and many colleges highlight the total amount of the aid package but make the families decipher just how much of that award, if any, is tantamount to a discount off the sticker price of the college.
To help you compare one school’s financial aid package with another, check out the financial aid comparison tool on the College Board’s website. You enter the figures, then it does the math and tells you what each school will actually cost to attend.