What should I do when I receive an award letter?
Students will receive an award letter from each school to which they have applied and have been accepted, assuming their financial aid application is complete. Award letters, sometimes referred to as financial aid “packages,” list the various types and amounts of financial aid for which the student is eligible.
Students and families should compare the different financial aid award letters received from each school in order make an educated decision on which college best meets all of their needs. In order to make comparisons, each family should:
- Compare like terms. Families should make sure the criteria used in determining the "total cost of attendance" are the same for each school. Some schools might not include transportation or personal costs in their estimated cost of attendance.
- Compare ratio of gift aid to self-help aid. Generally, packages with a higher proportion of gift aid are more appealing because students might have less debt when they graduate.
- Compare the terms of any loans included. Will the payments be affordable? Student loans with low interest rates and no repayment until after college might be more affordable than private loans or other consumer loans.
- Compare the total aid offered by all sources. Subtract the total aid from the total cost of attendance to determine the net cost to you and your family.
Follow the instructions sent with the award letter, remembering that you do not have to accept everything offered, and that most loans will require you to complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN). You also might be asked to return a signed copy of the letter in which you accept or reject each source of financial aid. The university will not increase other aid to compensate if you reject part of the financial aid package, such as loans. It is recommended that you accept the Perkins Loan, if offered, and Federal Direct Subsidized Loan, as these are very low-cost loans. The government pays the interest on both loans while the student is enrolled in college on at least a half-time basis.
You will be able to determine from your financial aid award letter your net cost of attendance (*direct and indirect), which is the actual amount you will have to pay after all financial aid is deducted. If the awards listed are not enough to cover all expenses, there might be additional options available. This is the time to further investigate private sources of scholarships, the Federal PLUS Program and to consider applying for a private student loan. Most universities also have a monthly payment plan available that might work for you. (Note: Work Study/Student Employment listed on the award letter is not aid that can be deducted from semester charges. A student receives a bi-weekly paycheck for hours worked during the pay period.)
If you have extenuating, involuntary financial circumstances that were not reflected when you completed the FAFSA, you should contact the financial aid offices at the universities where you applied to determine if there might be additional financial assistance available for you.
*Direct Costs are those fees that will be paid directly to the university each semester: tuition, mandatory fees, room, meals. Indirect Costs are the additional costs associated with the cost of attendance that is not paid directly to the university: books, transportation, personal expenses.