Skip to main content
I Can Succeed

College Budgets & Borrowing
When finalizing your financial aid, it's important to borrow responsibly. Research all your options and make an informed decision. Learn more.


Main Content

Financial Aid Offers

Each college you apply and get accepted to will send a financial offer outlining the financial aid they are offering you. While the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is not required for merit based financial aid, any need-based aid from the college will be dependent upon your FAFSA results. If you do not file the FAFSA, you likely will not see any need-based aid within your financial aid offer. Each school's package may be different, as each school has different requirements for their various scholarships and grants.

Here's what you need to know:

  • The amounts and types of aid you get will vary between schools. Each school bases their financial aid package on their school costs and other criteria.
  • The numbers in each offer may be subject to change, especially if there's been major changes to your household after the FAFSA was submitted or after you submit final transcripts. 
  • Each offer may show a different combination of funds that do not need to be repaid (like scholarships and grants) and money that will need to be paid back (loans).
  • Instructions will tell you if you need to accept and sign the offer and return it by a certain date to reserve the funds. (Such a signature doesn't mean you have to attend that school; it just sets the money aside for you.)

Comparing Financial Aid Packages

Comparing different financial aid packages can be confusing. If you have questions about specific items listed on the financial offer, contact the college's financial aid office. When reviewing a financial package, break down each section.

  • Determine the amount of free money (scholarships and grants) and the amount of proposed student loans.
  • Review the proposed Cost of Attendance and separate the direct (tuition and room & board) from the indirect costs (books, transportation, personal expenses).
  • Subtract your free money awards from the direct costs to attend the college.
  • The remaining balance is the cost you must cover to attend the school for one year.
  • Refer to your pre-determined college budget and decide if you can afford the proposed costs for year one, and for the subsequent years needed to complete your degree.

See a Financial Aid Package Comparison Example

Understanding Your Bottom Line

Your financial aid package includes everything the government and the school can offer you in the way of financial aid. Before you take out student loans, make sure you look at all the options available to you. If you find yourself falling short ask for help. 

If you are having trouble getting a grasp on how much college will really cost you, the Prepare to Pay for College (PDF) can help you decide how much out-of-pocket money you'll need for college.

Get a Part-Time Job

Ask if there are any work-study jobs still open. Look around campus and the nearby community for openings.


Some large volunteer programs can help you with your education costs.

  • Americorps members earn educational awards to help pay back student loans or finance college, graduate school or vocational training.
  • Peace Corps volunteers can apply for:
    • Deferment of Stafford, Perkins and consolidation loans.
    • Partial cancellation of Perkins Loans (15% for each year of service, up to 70% in total).

Find Out About Loan Cancellation and Forgiveness Programs

If you work in certain fields, some of your loan debt may be forgiven or reduced.

© 2024I Can Succeed. All rights reserved.