You’ve been accepted by a bunch of good colleges, and the financial aid offers from the schools are flowing in. How do you compare them?

It’s not necessarily easy—especially if this is your first exposure to the college years. Experts warn that it’s common to get confused about which combinations of loans, scholarships, grants, or work-study are best. “We’re seeing a sustained high level of confusion, because there are always new entrants who are suddenly faced with vocabulary they never learned when studying for the SAT,” says Robert Shireman, director of the Project on Student Debt.

But what it really comes down to is this: Which type of aid is most beneficial towards financing a college education? The simple answer, the experts say, is to look at the components in descending order of value: first scholarships and grants, then work-study or government loans. Private loans should be at the end of the list.

Naturally, though, nothing is really simple. Here are some resources to help you compare your financial aid offers:

  • This resource from Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education
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