The financial aid award letter tells you how much financial support the school can give you for the coming year.
You will receive a financial aid award letter from all schools where you have been accepted and from which you requested financial aid.
How to read award letters
Award letters tell you exactly how much financial support the school is able to provide for the upcoming year. The most common sources are:
- Grants: Money that does not have to be repaid. Includes the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), institutional grants, and state-sponsored grants.
- Work-Study: Money earned by working, either on campus (for the school) or off campus (for a private nonprofit organization or public agency).
- Scholarships: Money that does not have to be repaid. Any scholarships you informed the school about, as well as those the school is offering, will be included on your award letter.
- Student loans: Money that must be repaid. May include the Federal Stafford (subsidized and unsubsidized), Federal PLUS, Federal Grad PLUS, Federal Perkins, state loan programs, and private student loans.
How awards are determined
In general, the school computes the award based on the information you provided in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As you may recall, after you submitted the FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education sent you a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR, in turn, showed an amount called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
The school subtracts the EFC from the cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, textbooks, transportation, and personal expenses) to determine financial need and the amount of your award. The amount of aid awarded by the school cannot exceed your financial need.
Some of the factors schools consider when awarding financial aid include
- Cost of attendance
- Family income
- Family size
- Number of family members in college or graduate school
- Family assets
- Scholarships or grants not received through the school
- Major field of interest
- Athletic abilities
Analyzing your award letter
To evaluate the financial aid offer, consider both the aid package and what the college costs. It's quite possible that the most expensive school on your list might not cost you the most, depending on the package awarded by each school.
Our Online Award Analyzer can help you compare the financial aid award letters you receive. With this tool, you can:
- Compare award information from each school.
- Determine if the financial aid award and your savings are enough to cover the cost of attendance.
- Analyze options for borrowing additional money when savings are not enough to cover the cost.
- Estimate monthly payments associated with borrowing different loan amounts to better understand if you can afford a school.
- View different financing scenarios to find the right solution.
What to do if it's not enough
You have reviewed the award letter and are concerned that savings and the award are not enough to cover all education expenses.
Consider these funding options that may enable you to attend your top choice school.
There are loan options beyond those listed on the award letter to help students and families meet the cost of education, including the EFC. Parents may qualify to borrow up to the total cost of your education minus any aid received through the Federal Parent PLUS loan. Graduate students may qualify to borrow up to the total cost of their education minus any aid received through the Federal Grad PLUS loan. In addition, private student loans are also available. Some schools include these additional loan sources on their award letters, while other schools don't. These types of loans remain available to those who qualify even if they're not listed on the award letter.
Accepting your award
Note the cut-off date for responding to the financial award letter. If you miss this deadline, your award could be in jeopardy.
As soon as you decide which college to attend, let the admissions and financial aid offices at your schools know.