What You Need to Know About Financial Aid Award Letters

College can be quite expensive. With some colleges, you may see a tuition rate of over $40,000 a year, and sometimes even over $60,000 a year! While that will, of course, seem expensive and maybe feel like an unrealistic cost, before you make a decision based on your initial reaction to the sticker price, look closely at your financial aid offers that start hitting mailboxes in March and April.

Financial aid is funding that you may be able to get for attending a college, which can help you pay for college costs. Financial aid consists of “free aid” such as scholarships, grants (some grants may cover a portion of the student’s housing) and tuition waivers. Other options include federal loans, which will typically need to be paid back, with interest. Other sources of funding could include work-study programs.

These different options can allow a college student to go to college more affordably. And you may be surprised, private colleges (often those with a higher tuition rate), may offer the most in free aid. Compare your letters closely.

To help you understand those letters, here are my top tips on how to make sure you are getting the most out of your financial aid and maximizing your award letter offer:

  1. Don’t make this mistake! Many make the mistake of not filing their FAFSA at all. In order to be eligible for any government aid – including federal loans – you must fill out the FAFSA. Schools also use your FAFSA information when making their aid decisions, and some won’t consider you for any aid if you haven’t completed it. You NEED to fill out this form to avoid missing out. Plus, you need to fill it out every single year as well. It’s not a one and done type of form. Please, remember to do this each year- even if that means making a note on your phone calendar for the next several years so that you don’t forget.

  2. Know the impact of outside funding. Private scholarships can impact the amount of aid that a college offers because at least a portion of the student’s financial need has already been covered.

  3. Make sure you understand what your family is expected to contribute. This is otherwise known as Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and this amount can affect the amount of financial aid that you are given because your family is expected to contribute towards your college education as well.

  4. Be aware of the additional costs of attending college. There are many other costs of attending college outside of tuition, and you should be aware of them all. This includes costs such as laboratory fees, parking costs, textbooks, housing, and more.

  5. Understand the differences between financial aid types. Gifts, such as scholarships and grants are not expected to be paid back. However, loans are expected to be paid back, and usually with interest costs too.

  6. Ask for more. If the financial aid offered by your school is not enough, speak to the financial aid officers and make sure that they have a clear and accurate picture of your family’s finances. You never want to leave money on the table.

If you find the amount of financial aid provided isn’t enough (including the amount offered in federal loans in the student’s name), families may want to research and explore private student loans as an option to cover the additional expenses. Look for competitive interest rates and flexible repayment options that match your budget. College Ave Student Loans also offers a calculator that showcases how much families can save with various loan options at www.collegeavestudentloans.com.

For more financial aid award letter tips, check out the Naked Financial Minute by College Ave Student Loans and Harlan Cohen, New York Times best-selling author and America’s #1 College Life Expert. College Ave Student Loans and Harlan Cohen have teamed up to offer parents and students the inside scoop on college expenses.

What other questions about financial aid do you have?

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