Financial aid award letters
After your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has been processed and submitted to the schools to which you applied, as well as any additional forms required by the school, you will receive a financial aid award package from each school. This packet will explain the different types of awards for which you are eligible and outline the dollar amounts for each. It should also detail the total Cost of Attendance (or COA) for the school. Make sure you know what types of expenses this number includes, such as tuition, books, room, board, fees, required computer/equipment, personal expenses, and transportation. If it doesn’t include all of those items, you will want to add them to your total cost of attending each school.
The financial aid award can include a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and even a work-study job. Since these types of aid are very different from each other, it’s important to know the differences, what you might have to do to keep your financial aid, and how it might change in subsequent years of college.
You can also accept or reject parts of your award package. You can accept a smaller loan amount, for example, but know that you will have to find the money elsewhere.
Gift aid is the part of your financial aid package that doesn’t have to be repaid. It can include scholarships, grants or a tuition waiver. It’s still important to know a little more about each of these items, so you don’t risk losing them! Some questions to ask include:
- Do I have to do anything to keep my scholarship?
- Is there a grade point average minimum or other condition?
- If so, how long do I have to maintain that minimum or meet any other conditions?
- Do I have to keep the same major, or can I change majors?
- If I am awarded a scholarship from other sources, what happens to my financial aid?
- Will I get the same scholarship each year?
Earning Money is a Good Thing, Too
A financial aid award might include work-study (or federal work-study). This is a part-time job that enables you to earn at least the federal hourly minimum wage. The amount of the award depends on when you apply for the job, the level of financial need, and the availability of funds from the school. Work-study jobs can be either on campus or off campus and could be related to the student’s course of study. The amount you can be paid, or number of hours worked, cannot exceed the Federal Work-Study award amount. Some questions to ask about work-study include:
- How many hours per week would I need to work to use my entire work-study award?
- Will the school help me find a job?
- What is the range of wages I may be paid?
- How often will I be paid? Does the paycheck come to me, or to the school?
- What if I need – or want – to change my job?
- If I don’t think I can handle my school work and a job at the same time, can I switch the award amount from work-study to a loan?
Most students are awarded loans as a part of their financial aid package. Sometimes it’s not clear that an item in your award letter is a loan, so make sure you know all of the terms and ask the school for clarification. You could be awarded subsidized or unsubsidized loans – subsidized means that the government pays the interest while you are in school. Some questions to ask include:
- What are the terms of each loan?
- What is the interest rate of each loan?
- Are there any fees associated with each loan?
- What is the total cost of each loan (or how much will I owe by the time I’m finished with school)?
- When do I have to start repaying each loan?
- How much will each monthly payment be?
- Can I start repayment early, to save on the interest?