Many students assume that the amount of financial aid a college offers them for their freshman year is a good indicator of the amount it would offer them for their sophomore, junior, and senior years if they decide enroll there.
However, the truth is that not all colleges are consistent with their aid packages from year to year. Many offer their best financial aid packages to would-be freshmen—who are in the process of deciding where to attend—and offer less aid to returning students.
It stinks, I know. However, with a little research, you can figure out how likely a given school is to reduce its aid after your freshman year.
The trick is to compare the aid a particular college gives to its freshmen with the aid it gives to all of its undergrads. One site that allows you to do just that is COLLEGEdata.com. (Thanks to the College Solution blog for the tip.) To get started with COLLEGEdata, search for a college. On the results page, click the name of the school for which you want to see financial aid data. Once you reach its profile, click the “Money Matters” tab. If the “Average Percent of Need Met” is similar for “Freshmen” and “All Undergraduates,” that means the school is fairly consistent with its aid packages. However, if the number for freshman is substantially higher than the number for all undergrads, that’s an indicator that the school systematically offers more money to first-year students than it does to returning students.
Of course, these numbers are no guarantee of what will happen if you decide to enroll at a particular school. That being said, they will give you an idea of what you might encounter from a school's office of financial aid.