05 Nov Hot Topic: The Federal Shopping Sheet – Clarifying the Clarification

Last month, we asked CAPFAA members to share their thoughts about the Federal Shopping Sheet requirement and its impact on communications with students…

Submitted by: Jill Stone, Director of Financial Aid, Yale University Law School

If the Shopping Sheet is meant to “clarify” the financial aid process, the present regulated version significantly fails Graduate and Professional students. The current Shopping Sheet is specifically undergraduate focused and as such includes references to “Pell grants” and “Direct Unsubsidized Loans” not applicable to Graduate students (and often then raises the question from students of “why aren’t I getting these if they are listed on the Sheet”). It also does not allow the addition of the Graduate Plus loan which many schools prepackage in their aid award (and as such the Net Costs now appear significantly higher). The Sheet also references the Family Contribution conflicting with the fact that Graduate student (by virtue of being “graduate students”) are seen as independent of their families. And given standardization issues imposed by existing software many schools cannot input data specific to their various Graduate programs for the required Graduation Rate, Loan Default Rate and Median Borrowing information. So the result is that instead of this tool servicing its stated purpose of helping students better understand their aid award and options, it is actually providing Graduate and Professional students with contradictory and basically incorrect information. For my Admitted Students Weekend presentation I resorted to putting a picture of Shopping Sheet up in my PowerPoint with each section of the Sheet that did not pertain to them highlighted and basically told my students to “ignore this document” and use their original award letter as their primary source of information on their aid. The other concern I have is that on a Graduate and Professional level we are competing for students with other peer institutions across the country that are not presently mandated by their state to use the Sheet. Is that somehow putting us at a recruitment disadvantage with these other schools (particularly if a student misunderstands their award because of Shopping Sheet’s inconsistencies)?