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Comparing Financial Aid Packages

Understanding Financial Aid Awards

Financial aid award packages will often be sent out in March or April and will detail the total amount of financial aid a student is offered by a college. Packages may be sent out on paper, emailed to students, or posted on their college portal. A typical financial aid package will include federal financial aid, such as grants, loans, and work study, state aid, and institutional aid and scholarships.

If students do not receive their financial aid packages by March or April, advise students to call their college’s financial aid office. Financial aid offices may sometimes require additional forms or documentation.

As students start to receive financial aid packages, it’s important to review college costs and college affordability.

Things to Keep in Mind 

  1. There is no standard format for financial aid letters, thus each college's award letter will look different.
  2. Actual costs may be higher than the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
  3. Cost of Attendance information may be inconsistent, underestimated, or unrealistic.
  4. Parent Plus Loans are dependent on parent credit. If a parent gets refused a Plus Loan, the student can take out an additional $4,000 in unsubsidized Stafford loans. 
  5. Some Grants are front loaded, in which students get the most freshman year and the amount continues to decrease with each subsequent year.
  6. Many scholarships require students to maintain good academic standing, which is often defined by GPA, to receive the scholarship in subsequent semesters.
  7. Financial aid letters provide information for just one year; thus, students should determine if they can expect a comparable amount of aid in the subsequent years of attendance at the university or college.

Tools to Compare Financial Aid Awards

Students should compare their financial aid award packages before accepting a school’s offer of admission. 

Online Tools

Excel Tools

Paper Tools

Understanding Types of Financial Aid 

What's the difference between a subsidized and an unsubsidized loan? Which Cal Grant can I qualify for? What does FSEOG mean? These are common questions that might come up in your work with students. Understanding financial aid awards is not only about plugging in numbers and doing the math. Breaking down the types of financial aid that comprise student award letters is a crucial component of ensuring good financial fit. 

As students are looking at their packages, review your state-specific sources of financial aid.

New York State  | Illinois | California | Maryland