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A Simple 4-Step Guide for Reviewing Your Financial Aid Award Letter

Posted by: Kevin Michaelsen, Director of Financial Assistance

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Congratulations — you’ve been accepted to college, and completed all of the requirements to apply for financial assistance!  These are each milestones worth celebrating in your college search process.

With these celebrations also comes another critical decision point — you’ve received your financial aid award letter and have to decide what to do next.

What should you and your family do with the information you’ve received? Now that you have your award letter in hand, take time to digest the information. Once you’ve allowed yourself some time to read and review your award letter, here are the four most important steps to take next.

  1. Set up time to review the letter as a family. Be sure to allow time for discussion. It’s important to take this step as soon as possible to ensure you have ample time to plan and ask questions before critical deadlines.
  2. Add the direct costs of attendance. The direct costs are the true costs to attend college for an academic year. It takes into account the actual expenses, such as tuition, room and board, and mandatory fees associated with being a college student.
  3. Let the Financial Assistance office know the aid opportunities you plan to accept. Your award letter will detail all of the aid (grants, awards, scholarships, loans, etc.) that are being offered to you. (For a refresher on each type of aid, see our Financial Aid 101 post). Since the aid options are being offered to you, you have a choice in what you decide to accept. For example, if you do not want to accept a scholarship, work-study grant or a loan you were offered, you have the ability to decline.
  4. Determine what is owed (the difference between costs and aid), and make a plan to cover the remaining amount. For many families, there may still be a gap between the amount of aid offered and the cost of attendance. The good news is that there are many options available to you for covering these costs. Be sure to consider payment plans and/or family savings when making a plan to cover the remaining amount. If you have 529 Savings you can use it to make payments. Parent loans from federal or private lenders are helpful toward closing the gap, too. And, don’t forget to talk with others, such as grandparents or other extended family, who may be in a position to offer additional means of support. Finally, there’s still time to research and apply for outside scholarship opportunities to help bridge the gap between costs of attendance and the financial aid offered. (Be sure to check out our blog post on identifying credible sources of outside scholarships!)

As you review your award letter and plan your next steps, contact the Financial Assistance office to clarify any questions you may have. As experienced financial assistance professionals, we know it is important for families to have a full understanding of the opportunities presented and have all questions answered. We’re here to help!

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