Understanding Your College Financial Aid Award Letter

Award-Letter-Webinar-Blog-ImageYou Applied, Got Accepted, and Now… Understanding Your Award Letter

Written by: Lisa Phelps for Student Choice

I still remember the day I received my college acceptance letter. I was so excited. My parents were excited too, and for a few days that was all we talked about. Without meaning to burst my bubble, they eventually had to sit me down and explain that before I dashed off my enthusiastic reply, we had to wait to see how much aid the school was going to offer me. Once again, I had to be patient and wait, but this time it was for my Award Letter.


What is an Award Letter?

Your Award Letter, which spells out your school’s financial aid package, should arrive sometime in April, giving you plenty of time to figure out your options before the standard May 1 deadline for letting schools know your plans.


Your Award Letter Should Include the Following:

  • A breakdown of the cost of attendance (COA)
  • Your expected family contribution (EFC)
  • The amount of aid the college is offering
  • The deadline for accepting the aid
  • How and when the money will be disbursed.


The Aid You’re Awarded can Come from Several Sources:

  • Federal financial aid. The information you sent in for your FAFSA determines the federal loans you’re awarded. These loans are made directly by the federal government (Department of Education) and include both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. More info on the Student Aid website.
  • Federal Perkins loans. These come directly from the school and are awarded to students with exceptional financial need. More info on the Student Aid website.
  • Grants and scholarships. You want a lot of these because they don’t need to be paid back! More info and how to find scholarships and grants.
  • Work/study opportunities. At most schools, these on-campus, part-time jobs are first come/first serve and pay at least minimum wage.

Review your Award Letter Carefully

As you’re examining your financial aid package, check out which types of aid are renewable and what, if any, obligations you need to meet in order to continue receiving the money. Be sure to carefully examine each school’s award package to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. For instance, check to see if the COA figure includes the same things, like room, board, and books. And don’t forget to let the school know which types of aid you’re accepting; in some cases, you’ll need to sign and return your award letter. Check out our FREE recorded webinar – Understanding Your Award Letter – for more information.


Filling the Educational Funding Gap

For some students, the financial aid listed in your award letter may not cover all your costs, so you may need to look for alternative financing. Certainly check out our other posts and more information here about finding a private student loan that right for you. Remember, all lenders are not created equally, so find one you try – like your local credit union!

Parents may also be thinking about helping finance educational cost with a PLUS loan. In fact, some schools even include this on your award letter. But, just because it’s listed as an option DOES NOT mean parents have to accept it. Do your homework and compare the real costs of the money you’re borrowing. Your local credit union can often help you evaluate your options. Figuring out how to pay for college can seem overwhelming, so remember there are lots of different ways to get aid, including hundreds of private scholarships and grants. Be smart – only borrow what you truly need so you’re not overwhelmed with student loan debt once you graduate.

Here’s more information about how to fill the financing gap responsibly.


Still have Questions?

That’s ok. Just contact your school’s Financial Aid Office or your local credit union. If you’re not a member of a credit union, use the tool below to find one in your area!

financial fitness check up credit union

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