Colleges trick parents on financial aid awards

Stefanie Botelho's picture

The confusing and sometimes misleading financial aid letters that colleges send out this time of year can cause unsuspecting families to sign up for educations they can't afford, college experts warn.

There is no mandatory format for college aid letters, and many institutions leave out key information that could help families make informed decisions, said college consultant Lynn O'Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution. "There are all these tricks schools play," O'Shaughnessy said. "If you don't know how to interpret, you're not going to know if the school is going to be ripping you off or if it's going to be generous.

The Obama Administration tried to make comparisons easier by introducing the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, a standardized format that highlights the net price of attending a school — the cost after subtracting free aid, such as grants and scholarships, but before any loans or work study are included.

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