Confused—or simply curious—students and parents can always reach out to a school's financial aid office with questions, as officials at several schools recommend. Administrators there know what issues are facing the school and its students, understand each line of the award letters, and may have wiggle room to grant more aid on a case-by-case basis. Still, exercise caution this spring and factor in some flexibility as you calculate what you will be able to afford in the fall, Kantrowitz says.
"Families need to have a contingency—[after] they calculate the out-of-pocket costs, they need to consider the possibility that [these] costs may be thousands of dollars higher," Kantrowitz says. "If they want to go to a college where, under the known out-of-pocket costs, they're stretched to the limit, they may find themselves pushed over that line depending on what happens in Congress and the state legislatures."
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