So, you’ve submitted the FAFSA® (hopefully), and you’ve received financial aid offers from each school you were accepted to. They might contain different grants, loans, scholarships, and, potentially, work study. You’re probably wondering, “what does all of this mean?” And that’s completely normal. Whether you’re a first-year or an upperclassman, a financial aid offer can be confusing. Let’s break it down.
What to expect in a financial aid offer
A financial aid offer can look different depending on the school. There’s actually no standard format for financial aid offers. Let’s look at the typical components you might see listed.
Cost of Attendance (COA)
The first thing you’ll see listed is the total cost of attendance. Depending on the school, you will either see the COA for the semester or for the entire academic year. The amount listed is an estimate of tuition and fees, room and board, transportation, and supplies, such as books and laptops.
Student Aid Index (SAI)
The Student Aid Index is replacing the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The SAI is an index number based on the information you provided in your FAFSA®. The government uses that number to determine what types of aid you’re eligible for, and how much.
Grants can come from federal and state governments or schools and private institutions. Like the name suggests, grants are essentially gifts that are not expected to be repaid. However, you’ll want to make sure you stay eligible for them because grants are typically need-based and aren’t guaranteed to be offered every year.
Scholarships can be awarded to students based on info from the FAFSA® for a variety of reasons, such as financial need, community service, or academics for their field of study.
Students have to specifically apply for outside scholarships, and they may not be listed in a financial aid offer.
Like grants, scholarships don’t have to be repaid, but you’ll want to stay on top of them because they may not be offered every year.