So, you’ve gotten into college (congrats!), filled out your FAFSA (great!) and are now staring at a financial aid award letter, wondering what to do next (uh-oh). As the May 1 deadline to accept financial aid offers approaches, TIME Moneyland spoke to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and, to thwart many of the common misconceptions families have when it comes to financing a college education.

1. Loans reduce the cost of college.Student loans help families manage their cash flow by spreading out the cost of college over many years, but they do not lower the expense. “A loan is a loan is a loan,” says Kantrowitz. “But a lot of financial aid award letters treat loans as if they reduce the cost.” They don’t. Instead, loans simply reduce the amount of money families have to write a check for up front. Additionally, because of interest, they actually increase the final cost…

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