Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter II


April 10, 2009
by Scholarships.com Staff
So you've figured out your cost of attendance, your expected family contribution, and the total amount of aid you're being offered at each college.  However, not all aid is created equal, and a package that appears to meet your full need could actually get you into more debt than a package that leaves a substantial gap.  A useful move both in choosing a college and budgeting out what you need for the year is to separate the grant and scholarship aid you've been offered from all of the other financial aid.  This is going to involve some more math and record-keeping on your part. We'll delve into the best kinds of aid in the second part in our series on understanding your financial aid award letter.

So you've figured out your cost of attendance, your expected family contribution, and the total amount of aid you're being offered at each college.  However, not all aid is created equal, and a package that appears to meet your full need could actually get you into more debt than a package that leaves a substantial gap.  A useful move both in choosing a college and budgeting out what you need for the year is to separate the grant and scholarship aid you've been offered from all of the other financial aid.  This is going to involve some more math and record-keeping on your part. We'll delve into the best kinds of aid in the second part in our series on understanding your financial aid award letter.

Understanding Your Award Letter, Part II: Grants and Scholarships

College scholarships and grants are money you will not have to pay back.  They come from a variety of places and have different terms attached.  Grants are almost universally need-based, and will typically be awarded based on your expected family contribution and your estimated financial need.  Scholarships are given based on a variety of criteria, and while some may carry a need-based component, not all do.  Below are some of the most common varieties of grants and scholarships you're likely to see on your award letter.

Grants

There are state grants, federal grants, and institutional grants, but they will likely all be listed in the same place.  The most common type of grant is the Federal Pell Grant.  For 2009-2010, Pell Grants come in amounts from $976 to $5350 for full-time students.  Especially needy students may also receive an SEOG, which stands for Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant.  Award amounts vary, but they are usually a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.  First-year students may receive an Academic Competitiveness Grant, or ACG, which carries an award of $750 to $1,300.

There are also federal grants for people in specific fields.  SMART grants and TEACH grants reward students pursuing training in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and education.  SMART grants are only available to juniors and seniors who meet eligibility requirements.

Most states have at least one state grant program, and students who met deadlines and other criteria may see an additional state grant award on their letter.  Many states also offer major-specific grant programs, as well as grant programs for other specific student populations.  You can talk to you financial aid office or visit your state board of higher education's website to find out more about these programs.

Scholarships

Most universities offer at least one need-based scholarship, which is roughly the same thing as a university grant.  Numerous varieties of university scholarships exist, but the most common are need-based, academic, major-specific, and athletic.  If you've received a grant or scholarship award from your college, you will likely receive a letter explaining it in more detail.  Make note of the terms of the award, including whether it's renewable and what conditions have to be met to receive it.  This is especially important for college academic scholarships, as many require a fairly high GPA or heavy course load to renew.

It's also important to keep track of the grants, scholarships, and other institutional aid you receive because sometimes the awards may not appear on your first award letter, or they may show up under a different name.  Many scholarships come from endowed funds, and you may get a letter giving the more general name of the award, but may see it on your letter under the donor's name.  This can cause confusion and disappointment if you think you got a bonus scholarship but actually did not, and if your award is missing, adding it on later may result in your financial aid being recalculated if you're funded beyond your financial need or your cost of attendance.

Finally, if you've received any scholarship money through places other than the university or the state (such as awards you found through our free scholarship search), make sure it's represented on your award letter.  Many scholarship providers send the check to your school, and the school will need to make sure it doesn't alter your aid package before they disburse it. If you need the money to pay tuition or buy books, you want to make sure everything's set up so the check can smoothly make its way from the scholarship provider to your account.

If you're comparing offers from different schools, tally up the grant and scholarship aid you will receive this year, as well as the aid you can anticipate in future years.  Compare what your total award over four years will be for each school for the most accurate picture of who has given you the best deal.

Now that we've gotten through the free money, we can get to everything else.  Check out Part III for information on work-study and loans.

College is expensive, Scholarships.com is completely free. Pay for your college education with as much free college scholarship money as possible. By applying to all the awards you qualify for, you can be sure to not miss a single opportunity in paying for your college expenses - including tuition, fees, room and board. Get matched to college scholarships instantly and start applying today by conducting a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com.

Discuss

Share your thoughts and perhaps thousands of students will benefit from your unique insight on the subject!



If you can read this, don't touch the following fields


 
Gucci is releasing a new line of... diversity undergraduate scholarships for students who are traditionally underrepresented in the fashion industry. The 1.5 million U.S. university college scholarship program is set to run for four years, targeting students who attend four-year universities. Special consideration will be given to those residing in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, D.C and/or for those who plan to attend or are currently attending a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

Gucci Gaffe Results in Green for Grads

October 8, 2019 2:28 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Gucci is releasing a new line of... diversity undergraduate scholarships for students who are "traditionally underrepresented in the fashion industry." The 1.5 million U.S. university college
Not every student who goes to college completes their degree, much less finishes it within the normal four-year time frame. The Texas of A&M University has spent years working to re-enroll students who stopped out of college for a year or more, and may have found a solution in partnering with ReUp Education.

Texas A&M Working to Re-enroll College Stopouts

September 26, 2019 2:15 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Not every student who goes to college completes their degree, much less finishes it within the "normal" four-year time frame. The Texas of A&M University has spent years working to re-enroll students
 Photo credit: Jared Ames

A new PBS documentary exhibiting prison education, titled College Behind Bars is set to air on November 25 and 26. The four-part series documents the journeys of dozens of incarcerated men and women as they pursue college degrees in the Bard Prison Initiative - deemed one of the most rigorous prison education programs in the United States, according to Inside Higher Ed.

PBS Airs Documentary About Higher Ed in Prison

September 18, 2019 11:53 AM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Photo credit: Jared Ames A new PBS documentary exhibiting prison education, titled "College Behind Bars" is set to air on November 25 and 26. The four-part series documents the journeys of dozens
The federal government discharged more than $43 million in student loan debt for former students of recently closed for-profit colleges. Students who attended programs operated by Education Corporation of America, Dream Center Education Holdings, Vatterott College and Charlotte School of Law will be able to qualify for a full discharge of their federal loans if they were enrolled when their college closed or withdrew within 120 days of the official closure date and didn’t transfer to another institution, according to Inside Higher Education.

$43M in Loans Forgiven for Students of Closed Colleges

September 6, 2019 9:18 AM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
The federal government discharged more than $43 million in student loan debt for former students of recently closed for-profit colleges. Students who attended programs operated by Education
College Board is ditching its previous plan to capture socioeconomic information from students with a single score - also known as an adversity score - when scoring their SAT college admissions test. The score would have taken into account a student's socioeconomic background and the neighborhood in which they grew up.

College Board Backpedals - No Adversity Score to be Added

August 30, 2019 2:05 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
College Board is ditching its previous plan to capture socioeconomic information from students with a single score - also known as an "adversity score" - when scoring their SAT college admissions
Female-only college and university STEM programs are coming under fire for male discrimination as they attempt to redress gender imbalance in fields such as computer science and engineering. The U.S. Department of Education launched more than two dozen investigations into higher education institutions nationwide - including UC Berkeley, UCLA and USC as well as Yale, Princeton and Rice - which offer female-only scholarships, awards and professional development workshops.

Female-Only Scholarships Under Fire In Higher Ed

August 20, 2019 4:57 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Female-only college and university STEM programs are coming under fire for male discrimination as they attempt to "redress gender imbalance" in fields such as computer science and engineering. The
Dozens of suburban Chicago families have been using a legal loophole to help their children get need-based college financial aid and scholarships. By their parents' forfeiting legal guardianship, students are able to declare financial independence so they qualify for federal, state and university financial aid.

Parents Giving Up Guardianship for College Cash?

July 30, 2019 9:24 AM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Dozens of suburban Chicago families have been using a legal loophole to help their children get need-based college financial aid and scholarships. By their parents' forfeiting legal guardianship,
An Iowa Carpenter sent 33 Iowan students he'd never met to college with the $3 million he had in savings. Prior to his death in 2005, Dale Schroeder told his attorney that he wanted to use the money in his will help send underprivileged students to college. Schroeder's scholarship recipients, also known as Dale's Kids, recently met up to reflect on his generosity and the fact that many of them would have been unable to attend college without Schroeder's help.

Carpenter Comps College Costs for 33 Iowans

July 23, 2019 3:50 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
An Iowa Carpenter sent 33 Iowan students he'd never met to college with the $3 million he had in savings. Prior to his death in 2005, Dale Schroeder told his attorney that he wanted to use the money