Each college you apply to creates an award letter, or financial aid package, after they get your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) results. This award letter includes the types and amount of aid you qualify for. Each school's award letter may be different.
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 letter are estimated and subject to change, especially if you used estimated numbers when you filled out the FAFSA.
- Each letter 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 at some point (loans).
- Instructions will tell you if you need to sign the letter 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 Award Letters
Comparing different award letters can be confusing (understanding just one can be tricky). If you have questions about specific items listed on an award letter, contact the school's financial aid office. When reviewing an award 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.
- 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 an Award Letter Comparison Example
Understanding Your Bottom Line
Having trouble getting a grasp on how much college will really cost you? Prepare to Pay for College (PDF) can help you decide how much out-of-pocket money you'll need for college.
ICAN can also help. Schedule and Award Letter Review appointment at an ICAN center or call 877-272-4692 to discuss your options with a student success advisor.