4 Tips for Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter

By: Bryan Lee, UHEAA

Happy Girl Understanding financial aid award letters can be confusing. So here’s a solution—keep these 4 tips in mind and you can avoid some confusion with financial aid award letters.

Here are some common questions students ask:

What is a “package”?

In the context of college financial aid some refer to their financial aid award as an award “package.”

So don’t be confused if you hear someone talking about “school packages” different schools—they’re talking about the amounts on their financial aid award letter.

How do I get it?

After you’re accepted to a college or university you’ll receive instructions about your financial aid account. The first thing you need to do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After you provide all information your school needs and they process their financial aid, you’ll receive your award letter (usually by email). You’ll have to repeat this process each year you receive financial aid. 


Tip 1: Know what’s in financial aid award letter

The award letter has information on:

You may also see:

  • Grants
  • Scholarships
  • Work-study
  • Loans

Scholarships and grants you don’t have to pay—free money.

Your work-study options are generally an on-campus job with pay.

Loans are financial aid you have to pay back with interest.


Tip 2: How long is the financial aid award letter valid?

  •  Many grants, scholarships, and loans are available for your entire college career, but you need to renew your application or reapply every academic year. You may be required to get a new award letter for summer terms or semesters.

Tip 3: Out-of-pocket amount you need to attend college

  • Now that you have all the information on federal student aid, grants, scholarships, and loans are available to you, so what’s next? Time to use a calculator!
  • Here’s a simple calculation you can do to estimate your out-of-pocket expenses.

Cost of Attendance minus Expected Family Contribution equals total remaining funds to attend college

  • If the total remaining amount of funds is more than what you can afford, it may be worth looking into a job or a credible private student loan program.

Tip 4: Accept your financial aid award

  • If you have any concerns about your financial aid award, contact your school’s financial aid office.
  • Make sure to accept your award letter.

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