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The Financial Aid Award Letter: When Will I Know How Much Aid I’ll Get?

Posted by: Kevin Michaelsen, Director of Financial Assistance Get Free College Essay Tips
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Whether your college search is in full swing or you’re just getting started, you probably have a lot of questions about financial assistance. One of the most common questions we hear from prospective students and families is: When will I know how much financial aid I qualify for?

You’re not alone in wondering when to expect to receive an award letter. In fact, a recent national survey of 1,500 college-bound seniors and their families revealed that 38% weren’t sure when they should expect to receive notification of their financial aid package (or award letter or statement of award, as it’s sometimes called).

Regardless of what it’s called, this is an important document that states the amount of financial aid that the institution where you’ve applied and been accepted is offering you.

Let’s clear up the mystery -- and break down the “whens” and “what's” of the award letter for you!

When will I receive my award letter?  

The financial aid award letter comes after you’ve applied and been admitted to the institution, and after you’ve applied for aid (completing the FAFSA and or submitting additional material). This award letter is a summary of sources and amounts from the Federal government, State government and institutional aid programs that you can use to offset the cost of your attendance while at school.

The exact timing of your award letter will depend on when you were admitted to the institution and when you complete the financial assistance process requirements.  

Here’s a general time frame for some of the different types of admissions processes - early decision, early action, and regular decision:

  • Candidates admitted through the Early Decision process generally have an initial award letter by the beginning of winter, November - December.
  • Applicants admitted through Early Action often begin receiving award letters mid-winter to early spring, January- March.
  • Award letter distribution to Regular Decision admits generally take place in the spring, March - May

What can I expect to see in the award letter?

The initial award letter provides you and your family the first opportunity to identify the programs, resources, and methods to address the concrete costs of attendance. You can expect to see information on the cost such as tuition, room & board, books & other required fees, as well as the amounts offered through grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study to offset costs.

(For help decoding the different types of financial assistance mentioned above, see our Financial Aid 101 post).

Some award letters provide information about payment plans available at the institution. Award letters do not typically include outside scholarships, such as those offered by civic organizations, national and local businesses, churches, etc. that you may have applied for separately.

Now that you know when to expect to receive your award letter, you may have other questions about the financial aid process. Don’t hesitate to contact one of Meredith’s financial assistance counselors.

Also, look for more financial aid posts about what steps to take once you’ve received your financial aid award letter.

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