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Financial Aid Award Letters

Find out how much financial support the school will give you for the coming year.

After a college accepts you, you'll receive a letter that outlines how much the school will cost and what kind of financial aid package you'll receive — including federal, state, and school sources.

There’s no standard format for schools’ award letters, but they contain the same overall information:

  • How much your year in college will cost
  • The financial aid package that the school is giving you
  • What portion your family is expected to contribute
  • Any gap you’ll have to make up through other sources

Comparing financial award letters

Video: For information on how to compare letters from different schools, view the video, “4 Tips on How to Read Award Letters.”


g Factors considered when awarding financial aid

After you submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the U.S. Department of Education sent you a Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR summarized the data from your FAFSA and indicated your official Expected Family Contribution (EFC). A school subtracts the EFC from the cost of attendance (COA) to determine your financial need. Another way of looking at it is COA - EFC = your financial need and the amount of your award.

The amount of your federal financial aid award takes into consideration:

  • COA
  • Family income
  • Family size
  • Number of family members in college or graduate school
  • Family background
  • Scholarships or grants not received through the school
  • Major or field of interest
  • Athletic abilities

g Information in your financial award letter

COA: COA is an estimate of what you can expect to pay for:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies
  • Personal expenses

Schools cannot offer more financial aid than is required to cover the COA.

Your financial aid package: This includes all of the sources for financial aid that the school is offering you and that you’re receiving from federal and state sources:

  • Grants:
    Money that does not have to be paid back. Grants are usually based on financial need.
  • Work-study:
    Money earned by working, either on campus for the school, or off campus.
  • Scholarships:
    Money that does not have to be paid back, including scholarships you informed the school about, and those the school is offering.
  • Federal student loans:
    Money from the federal government that you’ll have to pay back with interest.
  • Expected Family Contribution:
    This amount, calculated from your FAFSA, represents what the government feels you and your family can pay toward your college costs.

Gap amount: If the financial aid package does not cover the entire cost of attendance, you will have to pay the remainder, or “gap” from other sources, such as a private student loan. Some schools supply a list with recommended lenders.

g Helpful tips

  • Review the information in your SAR and your EFC to make sure there are no errors.
  • You may have to “accept” or “decline” your award with the school, either online or by returning a signed form. But you don’t have to accept all the terms in your financial award letter.
  • Your award letter covers one year only; you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA and apply for financial aid every year you’re in school.
  • When you’re comparing schools’ offers, be sure to consider other factors, like its environment, quality of the program, and graduation rate.

Build your overall plan with the College Planning CalculatorSM, a free tool that helps calculate the expected cost of college and how you will successfully pay for it with savings, income, scholarships, grants, and loans.

Start Your Plan


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