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Financial Aid 101

Comparing Aid Offers and Determining Out-of-Pocket Cost

University of Denver Financial Aid

We know that comparing financial aid offers from multiple schools is an important part of the college decision process. Linked on our website is an aid offer comparison worksheet. This worksheet can help you compare offers side-by-side and calculate your out-of-pocket cost for each school that has offered you aid. There are some things to keep in mind, however, when going through this process.

Focus on out-of-pocket 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 you 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 in each financial aid offer? Some colleges will include a Federal Direct Parent PLUS loan in their offer, which can make the out-of-pocket 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 must be paid back; it should not be used when determining your out-of-pocket cost.

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

Plan for all four years!
As you compare offers, be sure to plan for all four years of your education. Remember that your out-of-pocket cost for the 2022-2023 school year will likely be similar to the out-of-pocket cost for the next three years as well. If your family's financial situation remains the same, DU will make every effort to provide you with a similar financial aid offer each year, provided you apply for aid on time and there are no 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 cost and aid offers vary from institution to institution, and that certainly justifies consideration. However, we also believe in the value of a DU education, and that should warrant your consideration as well.

Utilize our aid offer comparison worksheet.
Download our aid offer comparison worksheet to get started on comparing offers you may have already received from other schools. To use this tool, you will need:

  • the financial aid offers from each institution, 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).

The next 101 email will help you determine a financing strategy that will cover your out-of-pocket costs. In the meantime, feel free to contact us if you need help comparing your aid offers or determining what it will cost you to attend DU.

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

Up next week: Managing Out-of-Pocket Cost


We're here to help you.

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or call us at (303) 871-4020

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