How To Decipher Your Financial Aid Award Letter

by DCU |

You filled out your FAFSA, applied for college, and got accepted- yay! Then, you receive your Financial Aid Letter in the mail, but what exactly does your letter mean? In this blog post, we’re going to find out!


Important terms to know:

 Award Letter: An offer sent from a university or college that details how much financial support the student is eligible for. After filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and application to attend, you will receive your award letter.

Cost of Attendance (COA): A number provided by college or college financial aid offices that estimates the total cost of attending that school for a period of one year. Tuition, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation are included in the estimate.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The number that is used to determine your eligibility for financial aid. This number is from the number that you provide on your FAFSA. Your EFC is reported on your Student Aid Report (SAR). This is the amount that a student’s family is expected to contribute to college costs for a year. The EFC considers your family income, assets, size of current household and the number of family members that are currently enrolled in college.

One of the first things to keep in mind is your timeline. The spring of your Senior year, you’ll receive your Financial Aid award letter, and will need to choose your school by May 1st. After that, you will follow your school’s award process, then finally apply for student loans.

Your letter will list out the types of Financial Aid you’re eligible for. This includes:

  • Scholarships and Grants
  • Federal Work Study Program
  • Federal Perkins Loan
  • Federal Direct Loans
  • Federal Direct PLUS Loans 

The total yearly cost of a college education is called ‘net cost,’ which includes the cost of yearly tuition, books, room and board, and any fees the campus might charge. The Financial Aid report will start with the net cost, then subtract your financial need, scholarships, grants, and other aid from the total, which leaves you with the net price.

The net price is what you will actually pay to attend the school. The net price is specific to you, because it’s based on your personal circumstances and the college’s financial aid policies.

When comparing Financial Aid award letters and trying to decide which college is the most financially feasible for your situation, make sure you are considering fixed costs, flexible costs (such as living on or off campus and if you choose to purchase a meal plan), other income that you may be receiving (like a part time job that you could help pay for costs with), and tuition payment plans.

If you feel as if you weren’t awarded enough money, you can appeal your financial aid package for certain circumstances. The following situations will be taken into consideration:

  • Recent unemployment of family member(s)
  • Medical, dental, or nursing care expenses not covered by health insurance
  • Changes in the family’s income and/or assets
  • Disability/death
  • Divorce
  • Homeless youth
  • Incarcerated parents

For more information about how you can pay for college, or to schedule a one-on-one consultation with a College Access Counselor, check out or send your questions to

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