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University of Denver

Financial Aid 101: Determining Your Unmet Cost and
Comparing Award Offers


We know that comparing financial aid awards from multiple schools is an important part of the college decision process. But determining your unmet cost is also a critical part of evaluating your financial aid package. Included in the packet you will receive in the mail soon is a budgeting worksheet that will help you estimate what it will cost to attend DU. However, it's important to calculate the unmet cost for each school that has offered you financial aid. We're here to help!

Things to Consider when Comparing Financial Aid Offers:

Focus on unmet cost, not total aid.
It's tempting to compare the amount of one school's grants and scholarships to the grants and scholarships from another school. However, the most important figure is the bottom line—how much your family will have to pay or borrow in order to attend each school. An institution that has offered you a larger grant or scholarship may be a more expensive choice if they also have a higher sticker price. On the other hand, a school with a high sticker price may be the most affordable after all grants and scholarships are applied.

Look carefully at the types of aid offered.
What is the proportion of grants, scholarships and loans for each package? Some colleges will include a Federal Direct Parent PLUS loan in their award letter, which can make the unmet cost seem very low (or even $0). While qualified borrowers may get this credit-based loan for expenses up to the cost of attendance, it's not guaranteed financing and should not be used when determining unmet cost.

Take note of the requirements to keep your aid.
Is the aid listed on your award letter renewable for four years? Could it change? Will your financial aid package from each school remain consistent from one year to the next? Knowing this will help you determine if your unmet cost could change in future years. And speaking of...

Plan for all 4 years!
As you compare your award letters, be sure to plan for all four years of your education. Remember that your unmet cost for the 2014-2015 school year will likely be similar to the unmet cost for the next three years as well. If your family financial situation remains the same, DU will make every effort to provide you with a similar financial aid package each year, provided you apply for aid on time and there are not significant changes in available federal and state funding. Find out if other schools will make a similar effort.

Consider value as well as cost.
We know that sometimes a competing school's financial aid award is more generous, and that certainly justifies consideration. However, we also believe in the value of a DU education, and that should warrant your consideration as well.

Award Comparison Worksheet
Download our award comparison worksheet, which will help you calculate and compare the unmet costs for up to three different schools. To use this tool, you will need:

  • the financial aid award offers from each school, and
  • the cost of attendance for each school (which should include tuition, fees, room and board as well as indirect costs like personal and transportation expenses).

Next week's email will help you determine a financing strategy that will cover your remaining costs. In the meantime, feel free to contact us if you need help comparing your award offers or determining what it will cost you to attend DU.

Up next week: Managing Your Unmet Costs

Want to review past Financial Aid 101 emails? Check out the archives!

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