3 Ways This Financial Aid Shopping Sheet Is Immensely Helpful

financial aid shopping sheet

Whether we’re shopping for a tv, a car, or a home, we all know it’s important to shop around for the best deal. Why wouldn’t you do the same for financial aid?

Enter the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

It’s an amazing resource for college students looking at various financial aid offers. Since the 2013-2014 academic year, this standardized form has been helping borrowers better understand and compare their financial aid offers.

Although it’s not mandatory, more than 2,900 institutions have adopted the universal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet since April 2015, which can either replace or supplement the traditional reward letter.

Here are three different ways you can use this helpful tool.

1. Calculate your net costs

Knowing how much it costs to attend college is not the same thing as knowing how much it’s going to cost you, which is the only figure that matters. The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet does the math for you.

In the “Estimated Cost of Attendance” section, you’ll see a breakdown of costs, including:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Housing and meals
  • Books and supplies
  • Transportation
  • Other education costs

financial aid shopping sheet

With the “Total Grants and Scholarships” section, you’ll see the free money you qualify to receive through:

  • Grants and scholarships from your school
  • Federal Pell Grant
  • Grants from your state
  • Other scholarships

Then you can figure out your net cost by subtracting “Total Grants and Scholarships” from your “Estimated Cost of Attendance” within the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet .

This is the figure you’ll want to use – the net cost – when figuring how much you’ll need to come up with from sources besides grants and scholarships. Then you can see how that figure compares to other schools that might cost you more or less.

2. Review your options for paying net costs

It can be overwhelming seeing that figure – the net cost representing what you will pay for college.

However, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet also includes a list of doable ways to make it happen.


This figure represents how much you may be able to earn through a work-study job.

It’s important to understand, though, that work-study positions may be limited. And, you’ll still have to find and apply for them.

Plus, this isn’t money that gets paid directly to the school. You’ll receive a paycheck like you would for any other job and it’s your responsibility to use it wisely to help cover college costs.

Student loans

This section of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet will list your eligibility for Federal Perkins Loans, Federal Direct Subsidized Loans, and Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Note: Perkins Loans are no longer available for new borrowers.

Keep in mind that on the sheet are listed recommended amounts. You may be able to borrow more and you can absolutely borrow less.

Family contribution

While it does not represent how much your family must contribute, the family contribution section of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet lists ways they may be able to do so.

For instance, a family can set up a payment plan through the school, take out a Parent PLUS Loan or a private student loan.

Of course, what’s important to understand about these three options is that they represent money to be paid out of pocket, either now or later. So weigh the trade-off carefully.

3. Compare institutional performance metrics

This section of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet provides a broader context for how much it will actually cost to attend a specific school and whether you can really afford it.

If you find yourself torn between academic offers, these institutional performance metrics may tip the scales one way or another.

Graduation rate 

This is the percentage of full-time students who graduate from that school within 6 years. The longer it takes you to graduate, the more expensive college will be.

Loan default rate 

This is the calculated percentage of students who attend that school and default on student loans.

The higher the number, the more likely it is that students from that school take out more loans than they can afford to pay back.

Median Borrowing

This is the median amount students borrow to attend that school, including the median monthly payment on a standard 10-year repayment plan.

While this does not represent what you specifically will pay on your loans, knowing the middle-range is a good indicator of what you might be looking at.

Check it out for yourself

Here’s a standardized template of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

You won’t see any figures, of course, but you can at least give yourself a better idea of what to expect from the real thing.

Should you have any questions about the information on a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet sent to you by a school, contact their financial aid office.

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