Financial Aid Award Letters: 8 Things to Consider

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You’ve been accepted to college? Perhaps more than one? Congratulations!

Now it’s decision time, and determining financial fit is part of the process. Here are eight things to consider as you review your award letters.

1: Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
After successfully completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will be provided a Student Aid Report (SAR). On the SAR is a number called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—and you’ll see that number come into play on each of your financial aid award letters.

The EFC determines your eligibility for Federal Student Aid (FSA) and many private scholarship organizations also use it to assist in making award decisions. Your EFC will be the same at all the colleges that offer you financial aid.

2: Federal Pell Grant
This is an award of federal funds based on your EFC. It is a grant, and grants do not have to be repaid. The amount of your Pell Grant will be the same at all colleges that offer you financial aid. Not all students will qualify for a Pell Grant.

3: Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG)
All students who complete the FAFSA will also be considered for SEOG funding. This grant is given to applicants with the greatest financial need. To receive this grant, you must be eligible for the federal Pell Grant. The SEOG does not have to be repaid, but funding is limited. Applying for financial aid early is recommended to give your application the most consideration

4: Loans
Your financial aid award letter will likely include loan offers. All student loans—federal and private—must be repaid, usually with interest.

Some colleges heavily rely upon parents borrowing from the Parent PLUS loan and private student loans. This may be the case regardless of a student’s strong academic background. Private loans usually carry a higher interest rate than federal loans, and they may not have as favorable of repayment terms. Just because you’re offered a loan doesn’t mean you have to take it.

5: Institutional Scholarships
A college may offer you a scholarship from institutional funds, which are funds that the college or university controls. Scholarships do not have to be repaid, but institutional scholarships are not offered by all colleges. At some institutions, institutional aid is limited or nonexistent.

6: Federal Work-Study
Federal Work-Study (FWS) allows students to work up to 20 hours a week, mainly on campus with some limited off-campus options. The amount of money available to fund eligible students varies at each school.

7: Outside Scholarships
Depending upon the timing of your award offer, scholarships you earned from outside sources may not be listed on the college’s award letter. It’s important to know that outside scholarships can impact the  college’s initial scholarship offer. Talk to your counselor or an admission rep if you think your award may be impacted.

8: Requesting More Financial Aid
Some colleges may be able to award you additional financial aid based upon your specific situation, but don’t assume that all schools have the funding to meet your request. Ask the college which office handles scholarships and inquire at those offices. Examples of college offices that may be involved are the admission office, the financial aid office, and the academic department for your major field of study.

To learn more about financing your degree, visit NACAC’s Financing College webpage and listen to NACAC’s podcast episode devoted to understanding financial aid award letters.


Kenneth McGhee is the director of the DC Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG) within the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in Washington, DC. OSSE is a NACAC member organization.

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