You probably recall in the Game Changer video series my discussion of the insidious practice of front-loading the grant. This refers to when a college gives the accepted student a more favorable financial aid package (more grants and scholarships and less loans) in the freshman year but then in subsequent years, the grants are reduced leaving the student with more student loan debt than they expected when they signed their enrollment contract and paid their deposit. 

I would estimate that less than 2% of my clients when they first come to me know what front-loading the grant is; the overwhelming majority have not even heard about it. Well, you are already are one of the small number of people who have now heard of this term and also know what it means, but how are you to know whether a school is front-loading your grant? I can assure you will not see an underscored line on the aid award saying, we are front-loading your grant. In the question and answer section of video 6 in Game Changer, I share one way to know if a school is front-loading your grant, but here are a couple additional ways. The first is anecdotal but still worth exploring-Try asking upperclassmen if their grants have decreased since their initial grant they received as a freshman.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist but you will recall the effusive praise I had for Mark Kantrowitz in the Game Changer series; well, his research indicates that as much as 50% of colleges front-load the grants. One simple way this occurs is by increasing the Federally allotted Federal Direct Stafford loan in accordance with the federal guidelines in the sophomore through junior years. Other schools are more egregious with grant reductions that can not be explained by the school following the Federal Direct $1000-$2000 increase in the sophomore through senior years. Some schools figure it is more of a hassle for you to transfer and you are unlikely to enroll if they don’t give you their best financial aid package while you are a freshman and make adjustments in subsequent years.

A more objective, scientific and even easier way to determine whether a college is front-loading your grant is to compare College Navigator data. This is the free tool that the Federal government produces that contains voluminous amounts of extremely helpful information. College Navigator allows you to do a deep dive into each school’s financial aid information. The website has two different sections: a typical aid package for freshman and a typical financial aid package for all undergraduates. If after studying the data you conclude that the average grant in the “beginning” student section is noticeably higher than the average grant size for all undergraduates, it is a telltale sign that a school is front-loading their grants.