What Your Financial Aid Award Letter Is Telling You

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If you are a high school senior, or the parent of one, you might be getting some very important mail from the colleges to which you have applied. This is the time of year when colleges are sending out financial aid award letters to students who have been accepted for admission. The school has reviewed the information you submitted on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to determine the financial aid it believes you are eligible to receive from federal, state, school and private sources.

It is likely that there will still be some costs for which you and your parents will be responsible, but the financial aid award letter should give you a much better idea of what those out-of-pocket amounts will be. If you have not already selected your college, you can then use this information to help narrow down your choices. Although individual colleges may have different labels, the financial aid award letter contains at least two very important pieces of information:

• The Cost of Attendance (COA): This is the starting point of what it costs to attend this college and includes such items as tuition, room and board, books, fees, average living expenses, and transportation.

• Grants and Scholarships: This is the amount of financial aid for which the school believes you are qualified. Subtract the grants and scholarships from the cost of attendance to determine the net amount you will be expected to pay yourself through savings, non-work study employment, outside scholarships and federal or private student loans.

Compare this amount with the bottom line figures you receive from the other colleges on your list. Weigh financial considerations along with your likes and dislikes about each school to make a final decision.

Be Sure You Completely Understand Your Financial Aid Award Letter

If you do not understand anything about your financial aid award letter, you can ask questions of the financial aid office at your selected college. If the amount does not seem right compared to your other schools, ask what criteria they used in the determination process that could have made the difference. If the cost of attendance is higher than what you anticipated, ask if there is any way you might be eligible to qualify for additional aid. If your financial situation has changed, find out if you can submit supplemental information.

Your college financial aid advisor can also answer any questions you might have about your financial aid award letters and help you compare offers from the various colleges. Your advisor might also be able to talk to the college on your behalf to determine if there is anything else which can be done to help offset the cost of attendance at that institution. Set up an appointment with College Financial Aid Advisors (CFAA) to find out what other steps you can take to make sure you receive the maximum amount of college financial aid available.