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How to Use the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet — Financial Student Aid

By: Staff

Last Updated: October 11, 2017

When you're shopping around for the right college, how much it's going to cost you ranks right up there at the top of your priority checklist.

Unfortunately, what college really costs isn't always made crystal clear, leaving many students and their parents surprised by just how much they end up spending by the time it's all said in done.

This is particularly frustrating, and downright damaging, when it comes to accumulation of student loan debt.

The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is proving a helpful remedy.

What is the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet?

Developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is a standardized breakdown of information that every college in the country has been asked to provide to prospective students.

This tool not only enables students to quickly see what one particular college is going to cost, but also to easily compare one college to another.

What Information Does the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet Include?

Aimed at making the cost of college as straight-forward as possible, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet provides a detailed breakdown of the following:

  • Estimated Cost of Attendance, including tuition and fees, housing and meals, books and supplies, transportation, and other educational costs.
  • Grants and Scholarships, including school grants, federal Pell grants, state grants, and other scholarships that may be available to you.
  • Net Cost (i.e., cost of attendance minus grants and scholarships).
  • Payment Options, including work-study programs and loans, as well as the family's contribution based on what was reported on the FAFSA (i.e., payment plan options, Parent or Graduate PLUS Loans, military and/or National Service benefits, and non-federal private education loans).
  • Other School-Specific Information, including:
    • Percentage of full-time students who graduate within 6 years,
    • Percentage of students who default on their student loans, and
    • Median borrowing rate for Federal loans

Be sure and pay special attention to the median borrowing section, as this tells you 1) how much the school's students typically have to borrow, and 2) how much this median amount's monthly payments would be over 10 years time.

Do All College and Universities Provide the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet?

No. Currently, use of the Financial Aid Shopping sheet by colleges and universities is voluntary. If a college you're considering is not among the participants, ask why and consider instead other schools that are on board.

How Was the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet Developed?

In its development of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, the CFPB sought the input of those who know the challenges of the college application process best — students, parents, school guidance counselors, and college officials. Thousands of them shared their thoughts on the most important information to include, and how.

In 2012, every college and university in the nation was asked to adopt this tool. As of April 2015, over 2,900 institutions have voluntarily adopted the Shopping Sheet.

Where Can I See a Copy of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet?

Every participating college or university will provide a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet containing information unique to you and their school. However, to get a feel for the format, which is standardized, here you can see the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet template.