How to Play the College Financial-Aid Game

Annamaria Andriotis:

High-school seniors could be forgiven for thinking that comparing college financial-aid offers requires an advanced degree.

The letters have been pouring in over the past few weeks. But along with the excitement comes a challenge: sorting through offers that often differ in ways that can blur the bottom line.

Many colleges and universities list grants together with loans that must be paid back, or gloss over fees and other expenses that can add up to thousands of dollars. Some letters show the total costs that students will bear, while others leave aspiring engineers and artists to do the math on their own.