After you apply for financial aid, the colleges you have been accepted to will notify you of your financial aid award (award package). Some schools will send you a paper award letter while others will send you an email notification directing you to the school’s online system. Most colleges begin sending financial aid awards in mid-March.
Review your award, including the types of financial aid that you are offered.
- Grants and scholarships are gift aid that you will not need to repay.
- Work-Study is aid you receive for working on or sometimes off-campus. Work-study aid is typically used to pay for books, travel and miscellaneous expenses.
- Loans are aid that you borrow and will need to repay. Learn more about Federal Loans.
Learn more about financial aid basics.
Comparing Award Letters
There is no standard format for award letters, making it difficult to compare packages from different schools. Download and use FAME’s Comparing Financial Aid Awards Worksheet to help you compare different packages.
Compare each package to make sure you understand what each school will cost you to attend.
- First, calculate the net price – the cost of the school after grants and scholarships – for each school to get a more accurate comparison of your cost.
- Next, review the federal student loans you have been offered. Exclude Parent PLUS and Alternative Loans in your comparisons. These loans are available at most schools, but many schools choose not to list them as part of the initial financial aid award, in part because these loans require a credit review process and lender approval.
- Work-study awards are typically excluded from this comparison as they aren’t available at the time the bill is due, but are earned throughout the year.
Questions to ask about your award package:
- Is the award likely to stay the same for all years (assuming the financial information doesn’t change dramatically)?
- Are there GPA requirements to maintain any of the awards?
- How will outside scholarships impact the financial aid award?
What to do next:
- Respond to the colleges and follow up any additional items such as loan applications and student loan entrance counseling.
- Contact the financial aid office to discuss any special circumstances, such as unemployment, divorce or separation, or any other financial changes not reflected on the FAFSA.
Changes to Your Circumstances
Sometimes families have special circumstances that are not reflected on the FAFSA such as unemployment or reduced work hours. If you feel you have special circumstances that may affect your ability to pay for college, contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend.
Some of the most common reasons for asking the financial aid office to review your situation include:
- Loss of employment
- Divorce or separation
- Death or disability of a parent
- Loss of child support or alimony
- Unusual medical expenses
- Parent(s) attending college
- Elder care expenses
- Any financial changes not reflected on the FAFSA
The financial aid office will review your case and may require documentation before determining if your situation will result in an adjustment to your financial aid information.