Financial Aid Offers

Once a student has been admitted to a college, the next question for both the student and parents is — “How are we going to pay for it?” That’s where the financial aid offer (sometimes called an award letter) comes into the college planning process.

What is a Financial Aid Offer?

Financial aid offers are key to understanding how you’ll pay for college. Every college that accepts you will send a financial aid offer if you submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and were approved for financial aid.

Often these offers arrive via the student’s college online portal (established by the college for the student once they are admitted) and the student will receive an email notifying that they have an offer to review in the portal. In the past, the financial aid letter was mailed via regular postal mail to the student and some institutions may still follow that process. To see a sample financial aid offer, click the button below.

How should a financial aid offer be evaluated?

Students and parents should review these offers carefully to get a clear understanding of the total cost of college. If the student is considering more than one college, the analysis of the financial aid offer may reveal some important insights. For example, sometimes a college with a higher cost of attendance may have less out-of-pocket expense for the student because of the amount of scholarships or institutional aid being offered.

Click each tip to expand and learn more.

Use a tool to help you evaluate the financial aid offer(s). Mapping Your Future offers a “Comparing Cost of Attendance” tab on its Scholarship Tracking Sheet to help you evaluate a financial aid offer.

This is important because it could impact your costs as well as the amount of financial aid you are offered. For example, check that the offer includes your dependency status (dependent or independent for financial aid purposes), your program of study or major if chosen, and the type of housing you have selected (on-campus, off-campus, or at home with family). This is usually information pulled from your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The offer should provide information about the estimated cost of attendance. This includes tuition and fees; housing and meals; books and supplies; travel costs and other personal and miscellaneous expenses. Note that the cost of attendance will include things that are not directly paid to the college.

Contact the financial aid office if you feel this estimated cost of attendance doesn’t accurately reflect your costs. For example, you may have higher transportation or personal expenses, such as medical costs or insurance.

Before accepting any financial aid, determine what type of aid is being offered, if there are any requirements to be met, or if it must be repaid. In the “Comparing Cost of Attendance” tab on the Scholarship Tracking Sheet, list state aid, federal grants, federal loans, and scholarships. Grants and scholarships typically don’t have to be repaid but can come with requirements. Sometimes, if those requirements are not met, the grant or scholarship will have to be returned or can turn in to a loan that has to be repaid.

If you don’t want to owe any money for your education, you don’t have to accept loans. Or if you don’t want to meet certain requirements (some scholarships may require that you live or work in a certain area), you don’t have to take the scholarship. However, while you don’t have to accept all the aid being offered, it could mean you have more out-of-pocket expenses at that college.

Related Resources

Mapping Your Future
Paying for College
Paying for College Video Series

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