Most college admission decisions will be released by the end of this month, and with an impending reply date in early May, a projected 3.3 million future freshmen and their families are evaluating financial aid packages. Sallie Mae, the nation’s No. 1 financial services company specializing in education, offers tips and tools to help meet the decision deadline. The financial aid award letter provides a determination of financial aid eligibility and the type, amount and source of aid for the upcoming year. Families can then figure out how much they will need to finance — not just for next year, but for the next four years. “Students and parents should weigh the cost and affordability of college as a family,” said Charlie Rocha, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “There are a number of options available and it’s important that they do their homework together in order to best realize their return on the educational investment.” According to a national study from Sallie Mae and Ipsos Public Affairs, collaboration on college choice was rare: only 15 percent of families said parents and students shared in the decision on where the student will attend. Further, while three-quarters of students and parents agreed they should share responsibility to pay for college, only one-quarter made joint decisions on how to do so. Evaluating college costs takes more than a side-by-side analysis of financial aid letters, but that’s now easier with a new tool. More than 600 colleges and universities nationwide are offering a financial aid “Shopping Sheet” for the 2013-14 school year. Introduced last summer by the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Shopping Sheet presents information about the cost of attendance, financial aid options, graduation rates, and other data in a standardized format. The Federal Pell Grant is usually awarded to undergraduates who have a high degree of unmet financial need. For the new award year, the maximum Pell award will be $5,645, an increase of $95 from the current maximum of $5,550.