Scholarship News

Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter


April 9, 2009
by Scholarships.com Staff
Along with acceptance and rejection letters, colleges are sending out another nerve-wracking piece of mail this month: the financial aid award letter.  For many families who have only recently discovered the joys of completing the FAFSA, the financial aid letter can bring about a whole new kind of terror and confusion.  Even for people who are somewhat familiar with aid, deconstructing the naming conventions and occasionally less-than-detailed explanations on various colleges' award letters can be frustrating, as can mounting an effective comparison among differing aid packages.  Below is the first part in a series on understanding your financial aid award letter.

Along with acceptance and rejection letters, colleges are sending out another nerve-wracking piece of mail this month: the financial aid award letter.  For many families who have only recently discovered the "joys" of completing the FAFSA, the financial aid letter can bring about a whole new kind of terror and confusion.  Even for people who are somewhat familiar with aid, deconstructing the naming conventions and occasionally less-than-detailed explanations on various colleges' award letters can be frustrating, as can mounting an effective comparison among differing aid packages.  Below is the first part in a series on understanding your financial aid award letter.

Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter, Part I: COA and EFC

Two of the most important numbers on your award notice will be the cost of attendance (COA) and the expected family contribution (EFC). These are instrumental in determining your award, and they also have some of the most obscure and misleading meanings. Despite their prominence, they're occasionally tucked in strange places on the letter, such as near the bottom or in a box in the middle. Finding them can kind of be a Where's Waldo moment.

Cost of Attendance

The cost of attendance, often abbreviated COA, is occasionally referred to by other names, such as your "budget."  This number is not what you owe the school, nor what a year of education will necessarily cost you there. Instead, it is the average amount paid by a student in your situation: dependent living on campus, independent living off-campus, part-time living rent-free at home, etc. The COA will include tuition, student fees (these could change if you later register for classes with special fees, such as art or aviation), room and board (either what the school is charging you or what the average student in your housing situation pays), books, and miscellaneous living expenses.  Your school's financial aid office will likely have a detailed breakdown of this number available online or in the office if you ask.

The important thing to realize here is that this number is significantly higher than the amount of money you will actually owe the school. If you plan on working your way through college or receiving assistance from your parents for living expenses, you may not need aid to cover your full COA. It can still be a good tool for comparing among colleges, though, especially since they factor in handy things like average living expenses in the area.

Expected Family Contribution

The other big number on your award letter will be the expected family contribution, or E FC. Again, this is not the amount your family actually owes the school or is expected to pay out-of-pocket. Instead, this is the amount that, according to the information you submitted on your FAFSA, a family in your situation should ideally be able to contribute towards a college education. This is used to determine your eligibility for "need-based" aid, which includes state and federal grants, work-study, and even subsidized loans. Certain grants and scholarships can only be awarded to students with an EFC below a specific number (for example, 4671 for Federal Pell Grants), so if you are not eligible for grants but your financial circumstances have changed since 2008, talk to your financial aid office to see if your EFC can be adjusted downward.

Your EFC should be the same at pretty much every school, since they're using the same information to determine it (some schools require both a FAFSA and a CSS profile, so there could potentially be some differences).  However, it's still useful for comparisons among schools, since you can use it to determine whether your full "financial need" has been met by each school. Like nearly everything else in student financial aid, this term does not necessarily mean what one might think it should mean. Your financial need is a number calculated based on the two numbers we just discussed.  Your full financial need is your COA minus your EFC, and your unmet financial need is generally your COA minus your EFC minus any need-based aid and scholarship awards you've received.

So, how do you determine what the need-based awards and scholarships are on your award letter?  Check out Part II for that information.

Getting more college financial aid doesn’t have to be a relentless search. Scholarships.com is totally free. Connect with our massive database of millions of college scholarships at any time by searching for awards in a variety of ways. Scholarships.com offers the quickest and easiest way to search for, apply to, and win college scholarships. Start making your college education affordable or perhaps even free, 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


 
Facebook is returning to its roots with the launch of Facebook Campus, a college-only space designed to help students connect with fellow classmates over shared interests, according to the press release. The social media giant, which had originally started its life as a networking site for college students, is now refocusing its efforts on connecting students, particularly in the wake of COVID, even if they are away from college. Here's what you can expect from the new Facebook Campus platform if you are a college student:

Facebook Launches New College-Only Student Platform

September 15, 2020 3:30 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Facebook is returning to its roots with the launch of Facebook Campus, a college-only space designed to help students connect with fellow classmates over shared interests, according to the press
Today marks the 19th anniversary of the devastating September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States of America. We honor those who lost their lives in the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, as well as the first responders who gave their lives rescuing survivors, and the passengers of Flight 93 who thwarted the hijacker’s plans. The events of September 11, 2001 touched the lives of all Americans and redefined a generation. Now, even in the midst of another national crisis, we feel it is appropriate to take the time to remember this tragedy.

Remembering 9/11

September 11, 2020 11:02 AM
by Izzy Hall
Today marks the 19th anniversary of the devastating September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States of America. We honor those who lost their lives in the attacks on the Twin Towers and the
Coronavirus has led many collegiate athletics leagues to cancel or postpone the fall 2020 college sports season. These cancellations affect more than just the players and coaches. Fans – both on and off campus – miss being spectators to high-energy competitive sports like college football that inspire school spirit and foster community. As a result, some schools are turning to competitive Esports to help fill the gap in their fall college athletics.

Missing Fall Athletics? Try Tuning in to College Esports

September 8, 2020 11:43 AM
by Izzy Hall
Coronavirus has led many collegiate athletics leagues to cancel or postpone the fall 2020 college sports season. These cancellations affect more than just the players and coaches. Fans – both on and
With many uncertainties surrounding back-to-school plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, high school and college students are relying more than ever before on increased support and resources in their college and scholarship search and application process. To help, Scholarships.com has put together a list of top Back-to-School Scholarships worth applying for during this extraordinary academic year. This list features scholarship opportunities that are ongoing despite the coronavirus pandemic. Be sure to also regularly check our Coronavirus News for Students section for the latest impacts on college and scholarships, here.

Top Back-to-School Scholarships 2020

September 4, 2020 1:36 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
With many uncertainties surrounding back-to-school plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, high school and college students are relying more than ever before on increased support and resources in
As part of promoting safe living and social distancing on college campus this Fall 2020 semester in the wake of COVID-19, colleges and universities holding in-person classes have cut down on the number of students who can reside in the traditional college dorm. Many colleges have invited just a fraction of the class back to school and are altering traditional double and triple rooms into singles.  Because of this, there are students who would like to live on campus for the fall semester who cannot. Some students have taken to renting rooms at nearby hotels to capture some of that campus magic.

Hotels Make Room for Fall Students Amid Coronavirus

September 1, 2020 11:08 AM
by Izzy Hall
As part of promoting safe living and social distancing on college campus this Fall 2020 semester in the wake of COVID-19, colleges and universities holding in-person classes have cut down on the
The Common Application opened up for the 2020-2021 school year on August 1st. This one-stop application streamlines the college application process, allowing students to use a general form to apply to nearly 900 colleges and universities. One of the most essential elements of the Common App is the personal essay, where students craft thoughtful responses to one of seven essay questions. But this year it introduces a new free-response section for students (and their school counselors) to describe how the coronavirus pandemic has affected them and their education.

New COVID-19 Question Added to 2020-2021 Common App

August 27, 2020 10:53 AM
by Izzy Hall
The Common Application opened up for the 2020-2021 school year on August 1st. This one-stop application streamlines the college application process, allowing students to use a general form to apply