For many of us, getting our hands on the financial aid letter from our choice school is a stepping stone, something to celebrate.  After all, the funds listed on that piece of paper are what make college more affordable and therefore more possible.  As a follow-up to our previous discussion on college acceptance and financial aid, let’s talk about a few more financial aid considerations that come into play upon moving on towards college life.  Specifically, let’s talk more about that financial aid award letter and how to better understand and deal with it.

Locate the free aid.  On every financial aid offer letter, free money—that is, scholarships and grants—is listed.  You absolutely want any funds that are offered in these categories, as you won’t need to repay them at any time.  By now you probably know that such financial aid can be either earned (merit-based, i.e. from a high GPA or academic accomplishment) or needed (need-based, i.e. your financial status necessitates that you receive more financial assistance.).  Whatever the case, both help to pay for school and keep you out of debt.

Determine the CoA.  CoA, or Cost of Attendance, is what you can expect to be charged, in total, for school for the forthcoming year.  Odds are good that if you’ve done thorough research on the school you’ve chosen to attend, you at least know the basic tuition rate.  However, the CoA factors housing, meals, books and other items into the equation to present a more accurate picture of what school costs.  Your award letter should give a sort of breakdown of such expenses.  To get an even better idea, take this number and subtract your free aid from it.

Find the EFC.  The EFC, or Expected Family Contribution, is what FAFSA and the government has determined that your family should be able to contribute annually toward educational costs.  It’s different from CoA because the EFC is what you can realistically afford and will actually pay with your own money.  This, too, should be provided on your award letter, though if it isn’t the financial aid office will know. 
Locate the Loans.  Of course any money that will eventually be repaid is also listed on your award letter.  The most common federal loans include both the Perkins and Stafford (both subsidized and unsubsidized versions) Loans, so check to see if you’ve qualified for these.  It’s probably also a good idea to educate yourself on how these work (for example, each has a different interest rate) and what your responsibilities will be as a borrower.

It’s definitely not easy to decipher financial aid award letters.  To the untrained eye, it’s all a big jumble of numbers and nonsense words.  However, if you know what to look for, the process does become easier.  And, when that’s all said and done, depending on the fairness of the offer, you can even appeal the award like we mentioned in our previous post.  If everything looks kosher, sign the form and accept the award.  You’ll know what to do when the time comes!

For more financial aid solutions, get in touch with Go Financial Aid today!

Categories: Financial Aid | Grants | Scholarships | Student Loans
Tags: fafsa financial aid financial aid award financial aid award letter scholarships

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