Teens looking through the mailThe thick envelopes mean yes; the skinny ones mean no. That’s the stereotype when it comes to college acceptance letters. But not every school is right for your child’s academic path—or your family’s financial future.

“The cost of college has skyrocketed at three times the rate of inflation over the past decade,” says Farnoosh Torabi, financial expert and author of You're So Money: Live Rich Even When You're Not.So what’s a student with a limited tuition range to do? Get educated on financial aid packages.

Scholarships and Grants

These awards are usually made on the basis of achievement or financial need.

Pros: They never need to be paid back and most require nothing of the student other than maintaining grades and/or a specified major.

Cons: Scholarships can be lost if there’s a change in majors or the student’s GPA drops. And these awards don’t go on forever. “Scholarships have expiration dates,” Torabi says. “Read the fine print, understand when the money runs out, and plan accordingly.”

Student Loans

Torabi suggests approaching private student loans with caution given their interest rates. “Federal loans have far better repayment and forgiveness options for borrowers,” he says.

Pros: Loans are easier to qualify for than scholarships and grants and are more widely available. Good student loans also generally have lower interest rates.

Cons: They must be paid back, and four years of college can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.


Work-studies offer practical benefits. “Traditional part-time jobs can cut into class and study time,” Torabi says. “But work-studies offer students a way to make money and stay on top of courses.”

Pros: Work-study jobs are on-campus and often in the student’s major or an area of interest. Some may allow students to cultivate their resumes as they pay for their education.

Cons: They do take time and require a real commitment—if the arrangement doesn’t work, students can lose the aid.

Making Sense of Financial Aid

Use this chart to evaluate various financial aid packages. Enter all offers from the schools, then use the last column to list other things to factor in, such as the amount of a scholarship compared to the time your student would have invest in a sport/activity.

School Name
Annual Tuition + Fees
Scholarship Amount Offered
Work-Study Offered
Loan Amount Needed
Amount out of pocket
Debt at Graduation
Notes/Other Considerations


Learn more about more funding a college education at®.