Financial Aid "Shopping Sheet" Helps Students Understand Net Cost of College (Download)

Financial Aid College Net Cost Comparison Shopping SheetWith the rising costs of college and student loan debt as an impetus, the Obama Administration released a college “Shopping Sheet” (in late July 2012) designed to give students a better understanding of the cost of college. The guide provides students with a visual resource of a school’s total price tag, the type and amount of aid available, graduation rates and how much debt they could have after graduation.


Key Features



The "Shopping Sheet," created by the Department of Education, provides a standardized award letter allowing students to compare financial aid packages and make informed decisions on where to attend college. Students and their families now have a concise way to see the cost of a particular school. Additionally, the guide will show students some options for how they might be able to pay for college, including work study, loans and expected family contribution.

It also features a section on the school’s graduation rate, loan default rate and the median amount students typically borrow in federal loans at the school in question, as well as the standard monthly federal loan payment for students who borrow that amount and repay it over a 10-year period.

Here is a summarized breakdown of what students will be able to discern about the cost of college after filling out the "Shopping Sheet":

  • How much one year of school will cost.
  • Financial aid options to pay this cost, with a clear differentiation between grants and scholarships, which do not have to be repaid, and loans, which do.
  • The net costs after grants and scholarships are taken into account.
  • Fundamental information about student results, including information comparing default rates, graduation rates, and median debt levels for the school.
  • Potential monthly payments for the federal student loans the typical student would owe after graduation.

What the Shopping Sheet Aims to Do



The "Shopping Sheet" is intended to alleviate the aggravation and confusion that arises from the influx of financial aid letters that students and families receive. With each financial aid letter differing from university to university in language, layout, and style, and usually containing complicated, ambiguous vernacular, it can be very challenging for families to evaluate how one school measures up against another in terms of expenses. This confusion is attributed as a factor in the nation’s rising student loan debt.

The overall goal of the form is to give students and families the information they need to make financially smart educational choices and to, hopefully, decrease the amount of  college grads who find themselves saddled with debt, saying that they had no idea what they were signing up for when they took out student loans.

Click here to download the "Shopping Sheet."

College Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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About the Author: Mackenzie Maher

Mackenzie Maher, Editor and Online Content Manager, graduated in 2010 from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a BA in Global Studies and a minor in Professional Writing, with an editing emphasis. Mackenzie’s diverse portfolio also includes writing, editing, photography, and documentary script writing on such subjects as travel, career, and finance. Next to writing, she is most passionate about world travel (she has visited 24 countries).

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