Financial Aid Package (Award Letters)

After you submit your application for financial aid, you will receive a financial aid award letter from the college(s) to which you applied, typically in early to mid-April. This letter spells out the details of your financial aid package.

A financial aid package is a collection of different types of financial aid from multiple sources. It is intended to help you fill the gap between your ability to pay (your expected family contribution or EFC) and college costs (the cost of attendance or COA). It is based on your financial need, the difference between COA and EFC.

After you receive the award letter, you may be asked to return a signed copy of the letter in which you accept or reject each source of financial aid.  Award letters tell you exactly how much financial support the school is able to provide for the upcoming year. However, there is no standard format for award letters. For example, some colleges don't include the cost of attendance on the award letter. Others include just tuition and fees, but omit room and board.

Some of the factors schools consider when awarding financial aid include:
  • Cost of attendance;

  • Family income;

  • Family size;

  • Number of family members in college or graduate school;

  • Family assets;

  • Scholarships or grants not received through the school;

  • Major field of interest;

  • Athletic abilities;

First, awards from outside the college: The state and federal governments inform the colleges you list on your FAFSA of any scholarships, grants, or loans they award to you. Many private scholarships also inform the college financial aid offices of awards made to you. Some awards come directly to you, and you are expected to inform the colleges of them.

Second, awards from the college: The colleges and scholarship programs use information from your Need Analysis Report, together with data gathered from their own additional institutional applications (if required), and the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE (if required) to determine your financial need. The college financial aid office then assembles the information about the cost of attending its college, your financial need, your expected family contribution, the scholarships your receive from private sources, and the financial aid you receive from the federal and state governments. The colleges add their own institutional scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study grants to the amount you receive from outside sources.

Third, the offer: Your target colleges will offer you this combined financial aid package designed to meet your financial need so you can afford to attend their school. However, the content may vary from college to college. Furthermore, some schools may not be able to meet your full financial need with their available resources, but instead leave a gap. This usually occurs at colleges with limited student aid budgets. The colleges that practice gapping do not highlight the gap and often try to mask it by including non-need-based aid as part of the financial aid package. This is usually called "Gapping."

Questions to Consider:

What should I do if there is a gap?

Could private scholarships reduce my aid package?

How can I compare the different financial aid packages offered?

What should I do if there is a gap?

Very few colleges provide full financial aid based on grants or scholarships only. As college costs continue to go up, students and their families must rely on other sources to fill the "gaps" that frequently occur in financial aid packages.

  • Continue the search for private scholarships from your high school, community organizations, private companies, philanthropic organizations or any other possible sponsor. In general, you are well advised to continue searching and applying for private scholarships before, during and after your senior year.

  • Carefully review your financial aid package for information concerning "self-help" aid. The federal and state governments and the colleges will generally offer you the option of applying for various loan and work study programs. It is a big step to borrow money for college, so be sure to evaluate your present and future financial situation before applying for loans to help fill your financial aid need gaps.

  • Take advantage of college scholarship search services (Fee-based) to help locate sources of aid. There are many such services available on the internet and scholarship information can also be found in many different books available at your local bookstores.

Could private scholarships reduce my aid package?

This is a legitimate concern in some cases. First of all, when receiving outside aid, you must report the source to the financial aid offices of your target colleges. Generally, all students who receive a financial aid package are required to sign a form declaring that they have reported all income. Outside sources of aid count as INCOME. It is possible that an outside scholarship or grant could affect the calculations used by colleges in determining your total package. Other aid sources could be eliminated altogether or reduced. If you have questions about your aid package and how it will be affected by outside funding, contact the financial aid offices of your target colleges.

How can I compare the different financial aid packages offered?

  • Click here to learn how to evaluate your financial aid packages.