Understanding Financial Aid Award Notifications

Think of a financial aid award notification (often called award letter) as an offer letter from the colleges and universities you have applied to. They typically arrive in March for most schools and can arrive as late as April for private, selective colleges. It is not uncommon to receive multiple financial aid notifications from the same school—one detailing scholarship awards and one detailing need-based financial aid. These letters are available by logging into your school portal and spell out the details of your overall financial aid package. A school may also send your financial aid award notification via mail or email.

A financial aid package is a detailed summary of all the different types of aid available to you, including federal, state and institutional; grants and scholarships that do not have to be repaid; work study, in which eligible students can work part-time to help fund their education; and loans that do have to be repaid.

What do I do after receiving a Financial Aid Award Notification?

Review your award letter carefully and make sure you understand what sources of money do not have to be paid back and what sources do.

If you have applied to and received financial aid notifications from multiple colleges, compare them to determine which school makes the most financial sense. Be sure to calculate each school’s overall cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books, room and board, meal plan, and parking) and subtract your total award amount. The remaining balance will help you identify if there are any gaps between the cost of college and your combined grant, scholarship and loan amounts. If you plan to accept student loans, remember—they have to be repaid. Money through the federal work study program is paid directly to the student and is not applied to your student account. Students can choose to use it as spending money to cover living expenses or pay it towards their student account.

After you have reviewed and compared all of your financial aid award letters and made a decision, you can accept or decline the sources of money you want to use for the upcoming school year.

If you don’t receive a Financial Aid Award Letter, be sure to ask yourself the following:

Did I apply for admission to one or more colleges? Have I been accepted? Have I submitted all the necessary admissions paperwork and documents?

Did I complete and submit the FAFSA?

What colleges did I list on my FAFSA?

Does my school require a CSS profile (many out-of-state and selective colleges do)?

Have I checked my online student portal to make sure that the school’s Financial Aid Office isn’t missing important documents?

For help understanding your financial aid award notification, contact your school’s Financial Aid Office or call to make an appointment with a Get2College counselor.