Financial Aid Award Letters 101

Applying to college can be a daunting task, but it can be even more overwhelming when it comes to navigating the financial aid process. However, with the help of a financial aid award letter, students and their families can better understand the financial resources available to them. In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of financial aid award letters and what you should know to make the most of them.

What is a Financial Aid Award Letter?

A financial aid award letter is a document that provides details on the types and amounts of financial aid that a student has been awarded for the upcoming academic year. This letter is typically sent to students after they have submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and have been accepted to a college or university.

The letter provides a breakdown of the financial aid package, including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. The award letter may also provide additional information about the college’s tuition, fees, and room and board costs.

When Will You Receive a Financial Aid Award Letter?

The timing of when you’ll receive your financial aid award letter will depend on the college or university you’ve applied to. Some schools may send the award letter at the same time as the admission decision, while others may send it later. Generally, most colleges and universities will send out financial aid award letters in the early spring, around March or April.

It’s important to note that the timing of the award letter can be affected by a number of factors, including the college’s financial aid deadlines and the availability of funding. Some schools may have a limited amount of funding available for financial aid and may award aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

How to Read a Financial Aid Award Letter

The financial aid award letter can be a bit confusing to read, but it’s important to understand what it all means. Here are some key terms and information to look for when reviewing your financial aid award letter:

Cost of Attendance (COA)

The Cost of Attendance (COA) is the total amount it will cost to attend the college or university for the academic year. This includes tuition, fees, room and board, books, and other expenses. The COA is an important number to understand because it will help you determine how much financial aid you’ll need.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the amount that the government or the college expects you and your family to contribute towards the cost of attendance. The EFC is based on the information you provided on the FAFSA, including your family’s income and assets. The EFC is subtracted from the COA to determine your financial need.

Financial Need

Financial Need is the difference between the COA and the EFC. This is the amount of financial aid that you’ll need to cover the cost of attending college. The financial need will determine the amount of need-based aid, such as grants and scholarships, that you may be eligible for.

Grants and Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are types of financial aid that do not need to be repaid. They are typically awarded based on financial need or academic merit. Grants are usually need-based and come from the federal or state government, while scholarships can come from the college, private organizations, or corporations.


Loans are types of financial aid that need to be repaid. They can be federal or private, and the terms of the loan will vary depending on the lender. Federal loans usually have more favorable terms, such as lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options.


Work-study is a program that provides part-time employment to students who need financial assistance.


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