Senior Year College Planning Time Line on Patch

Greetings! As a counselor in a high school, I find that my students have no real concept of time and the deadlines associated with the college admissions and college financial aid application process. To help seniors in high school, I published a College Planning Time Line on the local Patch. Check it out if you have a high school senior who is planning on attending college after their high school graduation!

Check out this great college planning checklist complete with action items for the whole senior year!

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College Admissions Advice in a Nutshell

While typically Financial Aid Sense shares information about the college financial aid and financing processes, we also like to share related information about the college admissions process. With that said, just wanted to share a newly published e-guide called College Admissions Advice in a Nutshell. This informative guide about the college admissions process can be purchased on Amazon and is available on ibooks and nook as well. Basically this guide is a short primer for 9th, 10th and 11th grade students and parents to use before they meet with their college admissions advisor or school guidance counselor. There is a lot to know regarding the college admissions process and many steps a student needs to take to best prepare for this very competitive process. Check out this new ebook entitle College Admissions Advice in a Nutshell and stay on top of the admissions process!
Once you master the college admission process, be sure to stay on top of the financial aid application process as well! Financial Aid Sense is here for you as well!
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Paying the College Bill

Congratulations on being accepted to college! Now the time has come to figure out how you are going to pay the college bill! At this point hopefully you have received your financial aid award letter from the Financial Aid Office at the college that you are planning to attend! It is important to stay in close contact with that office and maximize any financial aid opportunities that are available through the college (including federal, state and institutional financial aid sources).

Navigating the college financing process and figuring out how to pay the college bill can be a difficult process, however, there are many options available and we offer a few suggestions as to how to approach the process. Be sure to take into consideration all of the college costs that you need to account for during the entire first year of college. Costs will include tuition, room and board, books, personal expenses and transportation and in many cases a laptop and related school supplies. Make a list of all the costs that you need to cover for the whole year so you have a solid sense of what to expect. Then subtract all awarded financial aid sources from the total cost. The balance is the additional amount that you will have to come up with for the year to cover all college costs. There are a number of resources available to pay the college bill, and several articles on this site are devoted to examining the different options available to families.

Families can utilize savings, monies in 529 plans, or can borrow against the equity in their home. In addition, colleges typically will offer a Tuition Payment Plan whereby families pay the college bill over a certain timeframe, typically over an eight or ten month timeframe. This is a low cost option which allows you to spread out payments without incurring huge interest costs like in the case of some education loans. Typically families will use money from their incoming resources to cover their Tuition Payment Plan responsibilities. For those that do not have resources available, then private education loans may be their best option.

Private education loans, also referred to as alternative loans, are credit based loans offered by lenders, such as banks, state agencies, credit unions, as well as private businesses. Private education loans are a popular option for paying the college bill; however, it is important to note that education loans do incur a cost, such as origination fees and interest expenses. Please investigate all financial aid options from the college or university, outside scholarships sources, and the Federal Direct Subsidized Stafford Loan Program(s) prior to borrowing private education loans due to the costs associated with borrowing.

Since private education loans have costs associated with borrowing, you should carefully compare the fees, interest rate, terms, repayment details, deferment provisions, and the total cost of the loan. Loan details and repayment terms differ greatly amongst lenders as well as between loan programs, so be diligent when comparing private loan details. There are many articles on this site which will serve as a guide to with regard to private education loan borrowing. Check out Private Loans and Credit, Paying for College with Private Education Loans, Applying for Education Loans, Private Education Loan Considerations, Private Loan Repayment Options, and Preferred Lender Lists.

As noted above, there are many ways to cover the college bill. Some families will use one option or a combination of several options. The good news is that many options do exist and a college education is an important investment!

Check out Financial Aid Sense ~ a practical guide about financial aid and the college financing process!

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Summer Timeline for College Bound Juniors

High school juniors will need to begin planning for the college search and application process early on to ensure that the process goes smoothly! The earlier that one begins the process the better, as the admission application process if full of deadlines and requirements! To make sure that you are as best prepared as you can be, please see our Summer Timeline for College Bound Students below which highlights important things to think about during the summer after junior year!

Build a strong resume – colleges like to see applicants that both excel in school but that also participate in extracurricular activities, community involvement, volunteer work or a combination of the three. It is important to highlight all of your activities on your resume. The summer is a perfect time for students to continue building their resume. Take advantage of your summer to volunteer, get a job, engage in your community ~ fill that resume, gain valuable experience, and have some fun! Make good use of the summer to gain new experiences as well as continue with current activities ~ all will build your resume and help prepare you for the college admission process!  Remember to write details of your activities down so that you can easily compile the information and include on your resume!

Understand the very important financial aid process that corresponds with the college admission process. Learn as much as you can about the financial aid application process so that you are best prepared. Similar to the admissions process, there are many related deadlines and necessary steps to take when applying for financial aid. We designed a useful and practical guide entitled Financial Aid Sense. This financial aid book will walk you through every step of the process and also provides you with handy check lists and support materials to help you keep organized from beginning to end. Don’t miss out on financial aid opportunities – pick up a copy of Financial Aid Sense today!

Tour as many colleges as possible!  See our article “Preparing for College Campus Visits” for helpful tips on preparing for and getting the most out of a college campus visit. By visiting colleges, students can get a good idea of what campus life is all about and determine if the college may be a good fit for them. Take advantage of your college visit by following some of the guidelines outlined in our article “Preparing for College Campus Visits”.

Develop a list of colleges that you are interested in applying to. Use a reputable college search program to research colleges. Sign up for the college’s facebook or twitter updates so that you keep informed about important happenings at your colleges of interest. Be sure to include academically safe and financially safe schools on your list. In addition, keep in mind that there are hundreds of colleges that do not require standardized tests. Check out information on test-optional colleges on this site! Aside from making a list of possible schools to apply to, be sure to include important deadlines and requirements on your list as well. Your Plan for the Future, The College Board, and Petersons all have helpful college search databases that offer you a good place to start your college search.

Brainstorm college essay topics and begin working on an essay. Essays should be well thought out, passionate, and grammatically correct. Check out the Common Application for suggested essay topics as a great starting point! You can also familiarize yourself with this popular online college application system which is used by hundreds of colleges in the country.

Research Scholarships for College! There is money out there and students should start researching scholarships as early as possible! Lots of great scholarship information and guides in Financial Aid Sense! In addition, lots of articles devoted to finding scholarships for college on our website. Check out Scholarship Searches, Outside Scholarship Searches, Outside Scholarship Considerations, and Scholarship Search Guidelines for helpful information pertaining to finding scholarships for college.

Stay motivated and on track and make good use of your summer after junior year in high school! Anything that you do now will help to keep you on track and make the application process during senior a smoother one!

For additional information on College Planning, please visit that section of our website.

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Paying For A College Education

By this point in time, many students have decided on which college they plan on attending in the Fall and have sent in a deposit to hold their spot in the incoming college class. Now reality sets in and families need to figure out how to pay for a college education. Certainly a college education is a large investment and fortunately their are lots of options for paying for college, some better than others. There are many steps that one can take in covering the costs of college and I will outline those steps in this article.

Hopefully you have applied for financial aid and been awarded a financial aid package by the college. Aid packages may include money from grants and scholarships, federal loan programs, and work programs. In most cases, although financial aid awards from college are key in meeting college costs, the financial aid offered will not cover all of the related college expenses. The reality is that even with financial aid from colleges, most families will still need to come up with additional funding.

Most people don’t have all of the funds needed to pay for college readily available and it may be necessary to pull from a number of different sources when figuring out how to pay for college. Keeping in mind that it is best to take advantage of the lowest cost options, I will start with those such options first.

After applying any financial aid funds that were awarded, families can figure out the balance due to the college. One of the lowest cost options available to cover college expense is a tuition payment plan. Typically, most colleges have a relationship with a tuition payment plan administrator and will provide families with details about available plans. Essentially, a tuition payment plan allows a family to pay their college-related expenses over the course of a designated time period, typically over 8 to 10 months, instead of having to pay a lump sum prior to the start of each semester. Tuition payment plans allow families the option of spreading out payments, making it more manageable for many. Usually there is a reasonable fee to join a tuition payment plan, however, the cost is much less than paying interest on loans. More details of how tuition payment plans work is available on this site.

Outside scholarships are a great way of funding college and are available from a number of sources. Please be sure to check in with the guidance office at your high school and apply for any available local scholarships. In addition, scholarships are available from national and state-wide sources as well. See the information on Scholarships Searches on this website. Although there is a lot of leg work and time needed to search and apply for scholarships, it can prove very fruitful if you make the effort.

If a family needs additional funding beyond what they can afford in a tuition payment plan, there are many different types of loan programs available. If the student received a financial aid award letter from the college, their financial aid package may have included either one or more federal loan programs. The most popular of these federal loan programs includes the Federal Perkins Loan Program, Federal Stafford Loan Program, and the Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan Program. Details of each of these programs can be found on this website by following the links provided above. These federal loan programs do provide fair interest rates, fees, and various repayment options to borrowers. If a student was determined to be eligible for one of the student loan programs, the program name and amount would be listed on the student’s financial aid award letter. If found eligible, then the student would follow the instructions provided by the financial aid office to complete the paperwork for those loan programs.

Another popular federal loan program is the Federal Parent PLUS Loan Program which is a loan available to parents of undergraduate students who meet certain eligibility criteria. Parents need to first complete an application for this loan which will determine their eligiility, based on credit and payment history. If approved, monies would be available to parents to help cover the costs of college. Parents can borrow up to the difference between the total cost of education minus the total amount of financial aid awarded. The interest rate for the PLUS Loan is 7.9%. More information and details on the PLUS Loan Program can be found on this site.

In addition to the funding options listed above, families have access to private education loan programs offered by banks, credit unions and other agencies. Private education loans are based on credit and the terms of these loans vary greatly between sources and should be looked at very carefully. It is important for familes to carefully compare private eduaction loan programs so they know all of the costs associated with borrowing through loan programs of that kind. Our article entitled Private Loan Considerations gives you a list of questions and guidelines when comparing private education loans.

So as you can see, there are many options available to families to help fund a college education. Obviously, free money such as scholarships should be maximized as well as financial aid sources provided by the college via the financial aid office. For those needing loans to help meet college costs, please just be sure to understand the terms of any loans before applying for and accepting loans.

Lots of information is available to you about college financing in particular as well as related college planning. Please visit Financial Aid Sense to check out all the information about financial aid and college financing. Best of luck in your college journey!

Check out this newly updated financial aid book – great for juniors in high school who are planning ahead for college – don’t miss out on financial aid opportunities – pick up a copy of Financial Aid Sense today!

 

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National College Fair Information

High school juniors in Massachusetts may want to think about attending the National College Fair put on by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) which will be held in BOSTON on Tuesday, April 30th from 9:00 am – noon and 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm AND on Wednesday, May 1st from 9:00 am – noon at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC).

The fair is a great opportunity for college bound high school juniors to meet one-on-one with college representatives who can answer questions and give valuable insights into colleges of interest. There is also a Resource Center at the FAIR where you can speak with a counselor about financial aid programs, finding scholarships, choosing a major as well as other topics related to the college planning process.

The National College Fair has always been a helpful venue filled with terrific college planning information! We wanted to share this information with high school juniors living in Massachusetts in case you would like to attend!

Other helpful information for college bound high school juniors can be found on the Financial Aid Sense website and on the Financial Aid BLOG.

Another thing to start thinking about is the financial aid process for college. Financial Aid Sense: A Practical Guide about Financial Aid and the College Financing Process is a terrific resource for the college financial aid process. This newly updated financial aid book and guide is invaluable to college bound students. Don’t miss out on financial aid opportunities – pick up a copy of Financial Aid Sense and learn what you need to do to apply for financial aid and scholarships of all kinds! A very helpful financial aid resource for sophomores and juniors in college who plan on applying to college.

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Colleges That Do Not Require the SAT or ACT

Test Optional Colleges

Recently, I was presenting to a large group of college bound high school juniors and sharing information about the college admissions process. I spoke about the overall admissions process with students and reviewed each potential component of a college admissions application, including the admissions application, the transcript, potential interviews, letters, activity list, and so on.  Students did not seem concerned about collecting letters of recommendation, doing well in their high school courses, or even about writing the college essay. However, when discussing the standardized testing requirements that many colleges still have, there seemed to be a lot of angst in the room. Many families expressed their concern over the cost of standardized tests and many students shared that they feel anxiety during high stakes testing or feel that they are just not strong test takers.  It was clear to me as a presenter, that most prospective college students found the standardized test requirement to be the most stressful part of the college admissions process.

After hearing this from so many students, I thought that I would share a very helpful resource with college bound students to hopefully lesson some of the stress that you may feel related to standardized tests and how they relate to college admission.

While there certainly are many undergraduate institutions that do require the SAT or the ACT as part of the admissions application, it is GREAT NEWS that there are well over 800 universities that do NOT require standardized tests. YES, over 800 educational institutions where the SAT/ACT is optional at their 4-year universities. The complete list of Schools That Do Not Use SAT or ACT Scores for Admitting Substantial Numbers of Students to Bachelor Degree Programs can be found on the FairTest website.

This is a great resource and this college list on the FairTest website is current as of Spring 2013.  The list highlights colleges and universities that deemphasize the use of standardized tests (SAT and/or ACT).  There is more detailed information on the FairTest website related to this list of colleges that do not require tests for admission and it is helpful guide to those compiling their college lists now. For those students who feel that they do not score well on standardized tests or for those who just want additional options, this website provides a handy resource related to colleges that do not require test scores. Certainly worth the time to check in out before you finalize your list of colleges ~ in some cases it may make sense to include one of these colleges on your college application list. Food for thought! Hope this resource is helpful to you!

Another thing to start thinking about is the college financial aid process. Pick up a copy of Financial Aid Sense: A Practical Guide about Financial Aid and the College Financing Process – this newly updated financial aid book and guide is invaluable to those applying to college. Don’t miss out on financial aid opportunities – pick up a copy of Financial Aid Sense and learn what you need to do to apply for financial aid and scholarships of all kinds!

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High School Juniors and College Planning

Spring has sprung and it is a beautiful time of the year! It is also a great time of the year for high school juniors to begin the college planning process! Being proactive and organized will serve you well as you move forward and plan for college! There are many things that high school juniors can and should do beginning in the Spring of their Junior year to best prepare for the college admissions process.

Below we have highlighted some important action items for college bound high school juniors related to the college admissions process:

  • Attend a college fair! Large and small college fairs occur all throughout the Spring and provide a handy opportunity for college bound high school juniors to meet with admissions representatives from participating colleges, ask questions, and collect valuable information from colleges. Most fairs are free to the public and many also offer the opportunity to attend informational sessions related to the admissions process and college financial aid process at the college fair. A great opportunity to gain knowledge and insights into the entire college process.
  • Visit college campuses to get a feel for schools you may be interested in attending! Students should visit as many college campuses as possible so that you get a sense of what size college you will be most comfortable attending. There are two ways to approach college visits! One way is more informal; this is when you may just pop in on a campus and look around. Many college campuses are open to the public, thus if you are driving by a college campus you can always stop in. Pick up a catalog at the Admission Office, drive through the campus, or park and take a walk and visit the student center or another busy area on campus. It is a great way to get a feel for the campus, especially when college is in session. One can also make an appointment for a formal campus tour. Typically, one will need to contact the Admissions Office in advance and sign up for a tour at a specified time. This is a nice opportunity to meet with an admissions representative or student guide who will provide a more formal overview of the college and a tour. Be sure to prepare beforehand so that you can ask questions and gather as much information as possible.  See this article on planning for the college campus visit which gives some pertinent tips and helpful information.
  • Standardized tests are still required by many colleges and universities in the United States. High school Juniors should plan on taking either the SAT or the ACT or both during the Spring of their Junior year. Information on these standardized tests can be found on The College Board’s website and on the ACT website and both provide. You will be able to register for these tests online.
  • Think about who you will ask to write Letters of Recommendations for you to submit as part of your admissions applications during your senior year.  Although you won’t complete these applications until senior year, high school juniors should think about who they will ask well in advance of admission deadlines. Most colleges require at least one letter (many two) of recommendation from an academic teacher, so put some thought into who you will ask and give that teacher a heads up. If you know of a teacher or counselor who is retiring at the end of the school year, be sure to ask them for a letter prior to leaving for the summer. Students should ask teachers who know them well and can write about not only their academic strengths but also speak to their personal values and contributions.
  • Search for scholarships! Many foundations, businesses, associations, clubs, and civic organizations have scholarship monies available. Searching for scholarships is time consuming and tedious but can result in obtaining money for college – money that does not need to be paid back! Searching for outside scholarships is a separate process from the college financial aid process and should be taken seriously. Lots of great information on searching for scholarships can be found in the following articles: Outside Scholarship Searches, Beware of Scholarship Scams, Outside Scholarship Considerations, BLOG Post – Scholarship Search Guidelines, BLOG Post – Scholarship Search Scams, and Scholarship Tips. Hope this information is helpful as you embark on the important scholarship search! For more information on scholarships searches and tracking worksheets, see Financial Aid Sense.
  • Research financial aid options and familiarize yourself with the process. Financial aid is available, however, there are many important details about the financial aid process that you should be aware of. Missed deadlines can jeopardize financial aid eligibility, thus it is important to be aware of what is required. In addition, the process can be very confusing. Financial Aid Sense is a newly updated financial aid publication that helps families navigate through the financial aid and college financing processes and shares numerous tips about how to stay on track and manage the process. Don’t miss out on financial aid opportunities! Learn what you need to do today to apply for financial aid!

Best of luck in your college search! Let us know at Financial Aid Sense if we can be of any assistance!

 

 

 

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Students be wary of credit cards – Tips to manage your plastic money

Guest Post by: Grace Ruskin, Financial Advisor & Writer

For most of the first-time college as well as university students, those shiny plastics in their purse or wallet gives them a no holds barred invitation to splurge on various good things in life. However, student need to be careful with the way they use their credit cards, given the soaring inflation, increasing cuts on federal educational grants and perpetual economic uncertainty that may put them underwater for years to come.

In this case, you may well guard your finances with some smart ways to control your impulsive expenditures to see through your college tuition fees with ease.

How to you manage your credit card and stay debt free

As experts say, credit card companies entice students like you by promoting credit cards as an alternative source of fund to make your college days more happening. However, you should do just the opposite with the help of the below discussed tips that are both practical as well as easy to follow:

* Control your excitement – One of the foremost things that you must do to guard yourself from piling up on outstanding credit card bills is to keep your excitement under control. Though they are good-looking and trendy objects to flash by, yet you may well enter into a vicious cycle of debt, if aren’t careful with them. Make some good use of any cash back offered to you by the creditor. For instance, put a part of that money in your savings or checking account and anywhere that you deem fit. However, make sure that you can find out all those money in case you need some cash instantly.

* Follow a financial plan – Now, budgeting serves as the foundation of a stable financial life and this fact implies not only to students such as you but to the highest echelons of the government. Basically, having a sound budget (or for that matter a practical monthly financial plan) will enable you to prioritize both your discretionary (wants) as well as non-discretionary (needs) costs. In order to draw up a budget, you may take advantage of online budgeting software or just a plain piece of paper and be done with the job.
What is crucial in case of budgeting is that you need to stick to the budget with some does of relaxations in case of emergencies. A proper balance with both your purchases and savings will keep you off from getting bored with it and keep your focus on track.

Know credit card basics – Prior to making a habit to swipe your credit cards at the drop of a hat, you must ensure that you’ve got the basics right. You must be aware of the pros and cons of using then before you apply for the plastics. In this case, run a thorough check of the balance transfer offers, annual percentage rates (APRs), creditor doled out incentives and various other credit card infused enjoyments. Considering the facts, self-recreational options like movies and concerts are high-end discretional luxuries that you must stay away from.
There are many such options too, but then keep your urges well under control and opt for some affordable alternatives to fulfill them, as most others do. So, you may well break away from the mundane world of books and lectures by attending all those college or university funded recreational programs.

Compare costs whenever possible – Comparing costs before buying any thing will help you to pay less and save more, thereby reducing any chances of getting into credit card debt. There are lots of ways to reduce your expenses like online shopping for books or any other college stationeries. Moreover, with so many online shopping carts vying for your business, it is very likely that you’ll be able to compare costs and stumble upon the most lucrative deal. So, the key here is to survey the online market extensively and find out the best deals offered by these e-commerce websites.

Therefore, with all these credit card management tips at your disposal, you cannot afford to use your plastic money recklessly. If you do, then you’ll have to opt for say, credit card consolidation programs (a type of debt relief strategy) to straighten up your finances. It is important in this case to be realistic with your finances and stay alert with what you do with them. Finally, your budget, finances and self-possession will definitely give you good results.

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College Financial Aid Offers

Receiving financial aid is typically a very important piece of the college financing process. A student is notified of their eligibility for financial aid funds via a Financial Aid Award Letter which is essentially a listing of the programs that the student has qualified for and the amount of specific funding available. Financial Aid Award letters are definitely not created equal even though ~ on the surface financial aid packages may appear to be similar however the specific components of a financial aid award may differ greatly between colleges! Please read on for very important information about financial aid award letters and how they should be carefully compared so students know exactly what they are eligible for and what the college is offering for financial aid!

Popular financial aid sources include grants and scholarships, student loans, and the federal work study program. The best types of financial aid are certainly gift aid sources, such as grants, scholarships, merit scholarships and restricted scholarships. Work study programs give the student the opportunity to work on campus (and sometimes off campus at approved locations) and earn money that they can use for books and other incidentals. Most financial aid award offers will include a student loan, or in some cases several student loan options. There are many federal loan programs that offer very favorable interest rates and fees as well as favorable repayment and deferment provisions. Students should review loan program details very carefully to ensure that you understand the paremeters of each loan program.

In addition to the financial aid programs listed above, colleges may include programs specfic to their college and in some cases colleges will include a Federal Parent PLUS Loan on the financial aid offer letter. This is when it is very important to carefully compare award letters carefully. The bottom line aid total is not the only metric that one should use when comparing letters. Families should look carefully at each component of the award letter. For example, let’s say that College A and College B both offer the student a total of $30,000 in financial aid sources. On quick glance, one might say that the financial aid offers are equal. However, in digging deeper, let’s take a look at two financial aid award packages, each totalling $30,000 – see example below:

College A offers a $15,000 scholarship, a $5,500 student loan, and a $9,$500 PLUS Loan which total $30,000, $15,000 of which is gift aid (does not need to be paid back) and $15,000 in loans which need to be repaid, including interest.

College B offers a $15,000 scholarship, a $5,000 Restricted Scholarship, a $5,500 student loan, a $3,000 work study allocation, and a $1,500 book award (grant). This aid package also totals $30,000 however the composition is very different. This student has only $5,500 in loans and the rest in either gift aid or work, a much more generous financial aid package.

So you get my point ~ the actual components of the financial aid package should be looked at carefully and compared with other college aid awards. Make a spreadsheet and track how much scholarship and grants each college is offering as well as the amount of work, loans, and anything else. That way you can determine the bottom line cost of college and make your decision based on your analysis. Look at the total cost of the college and subtract just the gift aid offered, that way you will be able to determine the “Net Price” of the college. Financial Aid Sense devotes a big section of the book to discussing award letters, sharing tips on comparing award letters, and sharing templates and comparison tools with families.

The following three articles contain a very informative breakdown of how to review and compare financial aid award letters. The sample award letters are a very helpful tool and help a family understand what to look for when reviewing financial aid award letters.

Award Letter Comparison is an Important Exercise

Sample Award Letter

Financial Aid Award Letter CASE STUDY

There are additional sample financial aid award letters and related award letter case studies in Financial Aid Sense. This financial aid book will prove very helpful to families who are naviating through the financial aid process. Although the guide covers topics related to the financial aid application process, financial aid programs, education loan programs, and tips on saving money, there is also a section devoted to analyzing and comparing financial aid offer letters. This information if vital for anyone needing to pay for college. For college financing information and a guide on how to compare financial aid award letters check out Financial Aid Sense!

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