Three tips to demystifying award letters

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Award letters can vary depending on the university, but these tips should be able to help answer any questions your students have about the next step of their academic careers.

College-bound students will be receiving their award letters in the coming months, and many may find they have questions. From subsidized to unsubsidized loans, cost of attendance to expected family contribution — award letters bring in a whole new string of vocabulary to learn. You can help put their minds at ease by answering some of their most common questions:

What do these numbers mean?
A typical award letter includes cost of attendance, expected family contribution, and various loans, grants, and scholarships available to the student. Scholarships and grants are funds that don’t have to be paid back, whereas loans are financial aid that must be repaid with interest. Although the amount of free money available may be the most enticing part of an award letter, it may not be the most important. How those numbers stack up against a school’s cost of attendance will be a crucial factor in how affordable a school actually is.

How do I compare these?
If students have applied to several colleges, they may come into your office with more than one award letter and need help narrowing down their choices. There are several comparison charts that allow you to input award letter information to get a realistic view of the cost of each college. These are helpful if the students are accepted into multiple universities with different loan and scholarship packages. Use the various comparison charts to find the best value.

What else should I know?
An award letter is valid for a students’ entire college career, but they need to renew their FASFA applications every academic year. Students are not required to accept all the aid listed on their award letters. For example, students may accept their subsidized loans but decline the unsubsidized loans in favor of other loan options. It’s an offer and not a mandatory condition toward acceptance to that school. Also, if work-study aid is included on their letters, students may want to know how to access those funds. They would have checked the box on their FAFSA applications that indicated work-study interest, and their award letters will include the amount of money they’re allowed to earn.

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