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What is an Award Letter?

An award letter is an official letter or notification from a school where you have been accepted, and outlines your financial aid award package.

The Process

You’ve applied for financial aid and received your award letter, but what does it really mean?  Have you been offered grants and scholarships, or will you need to borrow and pay back loans? Are the loans offered through the federal government or will they be paid back to the school? Understanding your financial aid award letter can be a little confusing, but armed with a little information, you will be better informed and know what questions to ask.

Understanding Your Award Letter

After completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the financial aid office at the school(s) you listed on the FAFSA, will receive your Institutional Student Information Report (ISIR), which contains all your financial information that you reported on the FAFSA.  From the ISIR, and perhaps a secondary institutional application, the financial aid officer (FAO) will determine your eligibility for programs from the institution, federal government, or other sources of aid and then send (or email) you an award letter.

Most schools will require that you sign the award letter to show that you are accepting the aid offer.  Just because a school offers you an award, you do not have to accept all that was offered; you can accept it, decline it, or decrease the award to fit your needs.  

What Should you Look for in an Award Letter?

You should look for the aid pack- age offered and compare it to the cost of attendance and the amount you will actually need to meet your needs.

Terms to Understand

Grants and Scholarships are typically free money, also known as gift aid, which does not have to be paid back, but can have some qualifying terms and conditions.

Loans are funds, often referred to as self-help, that need to be repaid. There are a variety of sources from which loans can be obtained and include Federal, Institutional and Private/Alternative.

Tuition and Fees are basic costs for your educational program at a specific institution.

Cost of Attendance typically includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, personal transportation, health insurance, and other required fees and expenses. You do not necessarily need to borrow the full cost of attendance but only what you need to cover your costs.

What Now?

Compare your award letters from the schools you are considering. If you are receiving any other awards that are not listed on the award letter you need to inform the FAO. If the school requires additional action, be sure to follow their directions. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call the financial aid office, they are there to help. Don’t feel overwhelmed, this is a lot to absorb and there are numerous resources to help you navigate your financial aid award letter.

Resources to Help You: