Congratulations on receiving your financial aid award letter! This is an exciting time as you plan to transition to college next fall. No matter where you are heading, your financial aid award letter is a crucial document that can make or break your decision to attend a particular college or university. It is important to understand what it means and how to interpret the different parts of the financial aid award letter. However, it’s not uncommon for the letter you receive to contain a lot of information and financial jargon that can be challenging to understand. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help you navigate your financial aid award letter with confidence. In this post, you will walk through each section of the letter, gain clarity on the different types of aid you’ve been awarded, and explore examples of financial aid letters. So, let’s dive in and explore the different parts of your financial aid award letter!
Table of Contents
What is a Financial Aid Award Letter?
Your financial aid award letter outlines the types of financial aid you’re eligible for, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans. It also tells you how much it will cost to attend your college or university, including tuition, fees, housing, food, books, and other expenses. This letter is full of important information that you’ll need to know as you make your final decision on where to attend college. Below, we’ll explore examples of financial aid letters.
When Can You Expect to Received Your Financial Aid Award Letter?
Financial aid offer letters are usually sent to you via email or an online portal by your college or university. Sometimes, they may also send you a paper copy by mail. You can expect to receive your financial aid offer letter in the spring of your senior year of high school if you’re an incoming freshman or at the end of the academic year if you’re a returning student.
However, keep in mind that the timing of your financial aid offer letter may vary depending on various factors, such as changes in financial aid policies, delays in processing financial aid applications, or other unexpected circumstances. If you have any concerns or questions about when you can expect to receive your financial aid offer letter, don’t hesitate to reach out to the financial aid office at your college or university for more information.
Here are links to several college financial aid offices:
- Amherst College
- Boston College
- Bowdoin College
- Brown University
- California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Claremont McKenna College
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- Duke University
- Emory University
- Georgetown University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Harvard University
- Haverford College
- Johns Hopkins University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- Michigan State University
- Northwestern University
- Ohio State University
- Pennsylvania State University
- Pomona College
- Princeton University
- Purdue University
- Rice University
- Stanford University
- Swarthmore College
- Syracuse University
- Tufts University
- University of Arizona
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of California, Davis
- University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
- University of California, San Diego
- University of California, Santa Barbara
- University of Central Florida
- University of Chicago
- University of Colorado Boulder
- University of Delaware
- University of Georgia
- University of Houston
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- University of Iowa
- University of Kansas
- University of Maryland
- University of Michigan
- University of Minnesota
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- University of Notre Dame
- University of Oregon
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Pittsburgh
- University of Rochester
- University of Southern California (USC)
- University of Utah
- University of Virginia
- University of Washington
- University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Vanderbilt University
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Williams College
- Yale University
Learn About the Different Types of Financial Aid
The first part of your financial aid award letter will tell you about the different types of financial aid you can get, like grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans. You need to know what each type of aid means, and if there are any requirements attached to them.
Grants are financial aid awards that don’t need to be paid back, typically awarded based on financial need or other specific criteria.
Types of Grants
- Federal Pell Grants: Need-based grants for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): Need-based grants for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need, awarded in addition to Pell Grants.
- State Grants: Grants provided by individual states to residents based on financial need, academic merit, or other specific criteria.
- Institutional Grants: Grants provided by colleges and universities to students based on financial need, academic achievement, or other factors.
- Private Grants: Grants provided by private organizations, corporations, and foundations to support students pursuing specific fields of study, demographic groups, or other criteria.
- Career-Specific Grants: Grants awarded to students pursuing certain careers, such as teaching, nursing, or social work.
- Minority Grants: Grants provided to students who belong to underrepresented minority groups, including African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.
Scholarships are another type of financial aid that don’t require repayment and are often awarded based on academic achievement, athletic ability, or other talents.
Types of Scholarships
- Merit-based Scholarships: Awarded based on academic achievement, such as high GPA or standardized test scores.
- Need-based Scholarships: Awarded based on demonstrated financial need, as determined by the college’s financial aid office.
- Athletic Scholarships: Awarded to student-athletes who have demonstrated exceptional athletic ability in a particular sport.
- Diversity Scholarships: Awarded to students who belong to underrepresented minority groups, such as African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx Americans, Native Americans, or LGBTQ+ students.
- Major-Specific Scholarships: Awarded to students who are pursuing a specific field of study, such as STEM or the arts.
- International Student Scholarships: Awarded to international students who are studying in the United States.
Work-Study programs provide part-time employment opportunities for students to earn money and gain work experience while attending college. The work-study program is a wonderful opportunity offered by colleges that allow you to earn money and gain valuable experience in your future career field. On-campus work-study jobs are available in a variety of areas, including administrative and office support, research assistants, tutors, and library assistants. For instance, consider Sarah, who worked as a research assistant in a biology lab through her college’s work-study program. By working in the lab, she gained practical experience, learned laboratory techniques, and collaborated with graduate students and faculty members. You, too, can follow in Sarah’s footsteps and benefit from the work-study program, earning money and valuable experience that can enhance your resume and future job prospects.
If offered work-study, the amount you can earn through work-study is typically limited and may be based on financial need. It’s important to note that work-study earnings are not applied directly to tuition and fees but rather are paid directly to you as wages. To qualify, you must apply for work-study through the FAFSA and may need to complete additional applications or interviews to secure a position.
Student loans are financial aid awards that must be repaid with interest after graduation or leaving school. They can be provided by the federal government or private lenders, and eligibility and repayment terms may vary. It’s important to be cautious about student loans that may appear to be free money, as some loans may have hidden fees, high interest rates, or unfavorable repayment terms. Always read the fine print carefully before accepting any loan offer, and make sure you understand the terms and conditions, including the interest rates and repayment plan. Remember that student loans are a serious financial commitment and should be approached with careful consideration and planning.
Check the Cost of Attendance
The second part of your financial aid award letter will tell you how much it will cost to go to your college or university. This includes tuition, fees, housing, food, books, and other expenses. You should read this section carefully to understand how much money you need.
Here are several colleges and their cost of attendance:
- Tuition: $52,210
- Room and Board: $17,750
- Books and Supplies: $1,200
- Personal Expenses: $2,700
- Total Cost of Attendance: $73,860 per year
- Tuition: $38,750
- Room and Board: $16,700
- Books and Supplies: $1,250
- Personal Expenses: $1,500
- Total Cost of Attendance: $58,200 per year
- Tuition: $47,320
- Room and Board: $14,510
- Books and Supplies: $1,200
- Personal Expenses: $1,800
- Total Cost of Attendance: $65,830 per year
- Tuition: $10,176 (in-state), $28,196 (out-of-state)
- Room and Board: $14,298
- Books and Supplies: $1,200
- Personal Expenses: $2,000
- Total Cost of Attendance: $27,674 (in-state), $45,694 (out-of-state) per year
As you can see, the cost of attendance for the colleges listed above significantly differs in terms of cost. On the higher end, Syracuse University has the most expensive cost at $74,970 annually. Ithaca College follows with a cost of attendance of $65,830 per year. Marist College has a cost of attendance of $62,450 per year, while Binghamton University is relatively more affordable, with a cost of attendance of $27,674 (in-state) to $45,694 (out-of-state) per year.
It’s important to remember that the cost of attendance varies depending on factors such as location, private or public status, and available resources.
Find Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
Your financial aid award letter might also have your expected family contribution (EFC). This is how much money your family is expected to contribute to your education for one academic year. It’s based on the information you gave in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s calculated based on your family’s income, assets, and other factors.
Your EFC matters because it determines how much financial aid you’re eligible for. If your EFC is low, you may be eligible for more financial aid, such as grants and scholarships. If it’s high, you may be eligible for less financial aid or none at all. So, it’s important to know your EFC when applying for financial aid.
For example, if your EFC is $10,000 and the total cost of attendance for your college is $50,000 per year, you may be eligible for up to $40,000 in financial aid to cover the remaining cost. However, it’s important to note that the EFC is only used to determine your eligibility for financial aid, and the actual amount you’ll have to pay can vary depending on your financial aid package and other factors. So, it’s important to keep track of your EFC and understand how it affects your college finances.
Compare Different Schools: Examples of Financial Aid Letters
If you got financial aid award letters from more than one school, you need to compare them to see which one offers the best financial aid package. You should look at the types and amounts of aid, the cost of attendance, and the types of loans available.
Here are the examples of financial aid letters colleges referenced above and a breakdown of a financial aid award letter provided to an admitted student with an Expected Family Contribution of $33,0000.
Example financial aid letter #1: Syracuse University
- Grant: $5,000
- Scholarships: $20,000
- Work-Study: $1,000
- Loans: $5,500
- Total Award: $31,500
- Cost of Attendance (CoA): $73,860
- Net Cost (CoA minus Financial Aid Award): $42,360
- Gap (Net Cost minus EFC): $9,360 of unmet financial need
Example financial aid letter #2: Marist College
- Scholarships: $15,000
- Work-Study: $0
- Loans: $5,500
- Total Award: $20,500
- Cost of Attendance (CoA): $58,200
- Net Cost (CoA minus Financial Aid Award): $37,700
- Gap (Net Cost minus EFC): $4,700 of unmet financial need
Example financial aid letter #3: Ithaca College
- Scholarships: $15,000
- Work-Study: $2,000
- Loans: $5,500
- Total Award: $32,500
- Cost of Attendance (CoA): $58,200
- Net Cost (CoA minus Financial Aid Award): $25,700
- Gap (Net Cost minus EFC): -$7,300 (100%+ of need met)
Example financial aid letter #4: Binghamton University
- Scholarships: $3,000
- Work-Study: $0
- Loans: $5,500
- Total Award: $8,500
- Cost of Attendance (CoA): $27,674 (in-state)
- Net Cost (CoA minus Financial Aid Award): $19,174
- Gap (Net Cost minus EFC): -$13,826 (100%+ of need met)
Based on an analysis of the examples of financial aid letters provided above, it is clear that Ithaca College is the most generous in meeting a student’s financial need. With a total award of $32,500 and a net cost of $25,700, Ithaca College is able to cover more than 100% of the student’s financial need. On the other hand, Syracuse University and Marist College have significant gaps in unmet financial need, with Syracuse having a gap of $9,360 and Marist having a gap of $4,700. Binghamton University, while having a smaller financial aid package, can also meet more than 100% of the student’s financial need and is the student’s most affordable option.
By comparing college offers, you can make an informed decision about which colleges are meeting your financial needs, offer the best package, and have the lowest net costs. All are factors that may be important to you. Once you have more clarity about what’s been offered and how it compares to other aid packages, you can decide if you’re ready to commit or if you’d like to appeal your aid package.
Ask for More Aid (If Needed)
If you’re not happy with the financial aid package you got, you might be able to ask for more. You’ll need to write a financial aid appeal letter and follow the rules for submitting it. Appealing a financial aid package can be a crucial step in securing the funds you need to attend the college of your choice. There are many reasons to appeal, such as changes in your family’s financial situation, discrepancies in your financial aid award, or receiving a better offer from another college. By taking the time to appeal, you can potentially increase your financial aid award and reduce the amount of money you need to borrow in loans. Remember, the financial aid process is not set in stone, and there is often room for negotiation. Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself.
To get starting writing your appeal letter, check out the post on appealing financial aid award letters.
Other Common Financial Aid Concerns
Colleges front-loading grants
Front-loading of grants means that colleges will offer a large amount of grant money during the freshman year, but may decrease the amount in subsequent years. This can be concerning if you’re relying on that money to continue attending the college.
Gapping is when a college offers a financial aid package that leaves a gap between the total cost of attendance and the amount of financial aid offered. This can be frustrating because it means that you will need to find other ways to pay for college, such as taking out additional loans or finding scholarships. As you can see in the examples of financial aid letters discussed above, gapping is quite common.
In addition to the financial aid concerns we’ve discussed, you may also have the opportunity to stack scholarships. This means combining multiple scholarships to increase the total amount of money you receive for college. For example, let’s say you’ve been awarded a $5,000 scholarship from a sorority and a $3,000 scholarship from your locals Lions Club. If your college allows stacking, you may be able to use them together to cover $8,000 of your college expenses and reduce your net costs.
However, not all colleges allow stacking. That’s why it’s important to read the terms and conditions of each scholarship to see if stacking is allowed. Some scholarships may have restrictions on stacking with other awards or with certain types of aid. In some cases, colleges may also have policies regarding stacking scholarships. They may limit the total amount of scholarships you can receive or require that you report all outside scholarships to the financial aid office.
College Listing Lenders
Listing specific lenders on the award letter means that the college has a preferred list of lenders for you to choose from if you need to take out student loans. It’s important to do your own research before selecting a lender, as they can vary in terms and interest rates.
Conclusion + Next Steps
Understanding your financial aid award letter is important for paying for college. If you follow these steps of breaking down the components of your financial aid letters and knowing what to look for, you are better equipped to make informed decisions about your college choices.
Remember to carefully review your aid package and ask questions if anything is unclear. Don’t be afraid to appeal your financial aid package if you believe you have a case for more aid. And keep in mind that your financial situation may change from year to year, so it’s important to stay on top of the application process and update your information as necessary.
Finally, be proud of the hard work you’ve put in to get to this point. Whether you’re receiving a full ride or just a small amount of aid, every bit helps in achieving your academic goals. Good luck on your college journey!
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