College-bound students will have to make their school choice in the next month. The country’s largest student loan originator, gives some advice on who to say yes to.

How to choose a college? Aunt Sallie Mae’s advice

College acceptance and award letters have been rolling into student applicants’ mailboxes for several months now, but before saying yes to an offer, students need to understand what they are getting in return.

Sallie Mae, the nation’s leading provider of college funding for students, has a four-step process to help students begin to sort out all that verbiage and to determine which college might be the best, and the most affordable, choice.

Find the cost of attendance (COA), or the total estimated amount it will cost you to go to college for one year. From there, keep you eye out for “free money” offered, such as scholarships and grants, and note if they are for one year or more. A college may offer a work-study job.

Now that you know your financial aid offer (free money and work study) subtract that from the COA. The gap between the money and the cost is what you will have to pay in some other way.

You can check out private student loans, parental loans, or federal Direct PLUS loans. Keep in mind, the school’s COA is a useful guideline to help you decide how much to borrow.

Compare the terms, conditions and details of each award and consider more than the total dollar amount. The biggest award amount might not be your best. Also, think about what’s not in your letter, like school size, location, campus culture, program offered and other factors that are important to you.

You can get more advice from Sallie Mae here.

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