How do I compare financial aid award packages from different
Your official offer of a financial aid award package will come
in the form of an award letter or notice after you have completed
the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While you can
apply for financial aid before you complete admission applications,
schools may not make an official offer of aid until you are
accepted for enrollment (some schools also use the Web to provide
notices after your freshman year in college). If you are curious
what your federal aid package might look like, you can view
information on Colorado colleges by using the Financial Aid Award Estimator and selecting a
school of choice.
Once you receive your award letter or notice, be sure to pay
close attention to the offer, as well as to what you must do to
accept the offer. The award letter will likely contain different
types of financial aid combined into a financial aid package and
will be for a specific period of enrollment and enrollment status
(full- or half-time for example). Your package may contain
scholarships, grants, work study or student loans - any of the categories of financial aid. Review a sample award letter to see what awards amounts
look like and use an Award Letter Comparison worksheet to compare
the awards you receive from your colleges.
Be sure to notice whether you must sign and return your award
notice to accept the aid. Note that many schools do not require a
special acceptance for scholarships and grants (students rarely
turn down these types of gift aid). For offers that include
work-study and student or parent loans, you may have to explicitly
accept them. Signing a promissory note will be required for student
and parent loans. If you change your enrollment plans, the
financial aid package will most likely have to be revised.
Not all schools include PLUS loans for parents of dependent students
in the award letter and financial aid package. Some schools do not
include Federal Direct student loan(s) in the letter.
Even though you may not see these loans on your award letter, it
does not necessarily mean that you are ineligible for them. You may
have to apply separately for a determination of eligibility.
Contact the financial aid office if you have questions regarding
your eligibility for these loans.
The award letter usually identifies the cost of
attendance (COA) and expected family contribution
(EFC) used to determine your eligibility. The cost of
attendance not only includes school charges (tuition, fees and room
and board if you live on campus in a residence hall), but it also
includes books, supplies and related living expenses while
attending school. Expected family contribution is the amount a
student and his or her family may reasonably be expected to
contribute toward the cost of attending college that year.
Your bill from the school will list all school charges and
usually will also indicate what financial aid has been or will be
credited. Wait for the bill and pay only the difference between
this credit and the school's charges. Contact the school if you do
not receive a bill and school is about to start or if you have
accepted the financial aid package but the aid is not reflected
correctly on the bill.
Ask yourself these questions when evaluating financial aid
- With the aid offered to me, can I afford to attend my first
choice college or university? Remember, the goal of aid is to
provide access and choice, not to lure you to a college you don't
really want to attend.
- Is there a commitment from the financial aid office to continue
the aid after the first year of college? Under what terms and
- Is the loan or work required reasonable? Can I afford the
payments once I have graduated? How many hours of weekly work does
the award imply?
- Are other options available to me at my first choice college or
university? Ask the aid office at that college or university to
suggest other options for financing your education.
Luckily for Hannah Crippen, a first-year college student, all three
schools she applied to offered comparable aid packages. This
allowed her to make her decision based on other factors.
"The college she chose came down to a gut feel she had during
her campus visit, and also recruiting by their admissions staff,
that made her feel special and wanted," says her mother, Mary
Crippen. "My husband and I met at a college very much like the ones
she applied to, so we want to give our children the opportunity to
have a college experience like we had if at all possible. We know
it means making some adjustments to make that happen."