Paying for College

Understanding Financial Aid Budget Worksheets

Question: I'm really having a hard time understanding my financial aid papers. I noticed on my budget worksheet that certain amounts are calculated for room and board (I live off campus), personal expenses, dependent care, and transportation. How is this supposed to benefit me, and was it necessary to calculate this in my budget?

When a college prepares a budget sheet such as the one you describe, what they are really doing is showing you the figures on which they have based the amount of aid they are awarding you.


Typically, the aid that colleges give out to cover non-tuition expenses (such as your room and board, dependent care, transportation, etc) comes in the form of loans that must be repaid. Look over the itemized estimates on your budget sheet. Do you think the numbers are fairly accurate? If you feel that they are high, that could mean that you will require less loan than the college expects you to take out, so that could be good news for you.

If, however, you find the numbers are low in one or more areas, then you should contact the financial aid office at your college as soon as possible and explain your reasoning. Hopefully, they will adjust your aid to reflect the new figures you present, but you have to be prepared for the possibility that they will question them. For example, if the figures you cite for rent, childcare, etc. exceed the norms in your area, the college may be hesitant to up your aid to cover them (not necessarily—just want you to be ready to do battle, if need be!).

Thus, the budget worksheet “benefits” you to the extent that it enables you to see the estimates that the financial aid folks used when they calculated your aid package. Sometimes such budget sheets can be helpful to students, too, because they provide a sense of typical costs in the categories listed. If the amounts you are paying are much greater, it could mean that the college miscalculated, but it could also mean you’re getting a bum deal somewhere along the way and might want to check out better options.

Best wishes to you as you wade through the financial aid quagmire. It can sometimes seem like an education in itself, can’t it?