Financial-aid packages presented with college acceptance letters can seem confusing, but parents and students can be prepared by looking for five key criteria, author and consultant Lynn O'Shaughnessy writes. It's important to distinguish between scholarships or grants, and loans -- the former can be considered "free money" awarded to students based on merit or need, while the latter may be designed to look more attractive but may not benefit students in the long run, she writes. In addition, consider an appeal of a disappointing package, O'Shaughnessy suggests.

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