Understanding Award Letters

Any college or university that accepts you will send you an award letter: an outline of all the financial aid being offered or suggested to you. It might arrive by email or postal mail. It might come with your acceptance letter or shortly afterward.

Sample award letter

(courtesy of Grand View University)


When you get your award letter:

Check the deadline to accept this financial aid package. Most colleges and universities send out letters in winter or early spring and require a response by May 1.

Look at your EFC. This is your expected family contribution. Your financial aid package is meant to make up the difference between your EFC and your college costs.

Know these terms:

  • “Grants” and “scholarships” are free money that you won’t need to pay back. These might come from federal and state funds, from the school itself or from private sources.
  • “Loans” are money that you borrow and pay back with interest. You are not required to take out the entire amount of loans listed here—in fact, it’s better if you don’t. If you borrow, start with federal loans, which offer low interest rates and borrower-friendly repayment plans. If your parents plan to borrow, federal PLUS loans might be an option. Exhaust all your federal loan opportunities before you consider private loans. After you graduate, try to make more than the minimum monthly payment. You’ll actually pay less in the long run.
  • "Federal Work Study" is a campus or community job. Although it’s part of your financial aid package, you’ll be responsible for landing the job, based on referrals from the financial aid office.

Pay attention to what’s missing. In addition to a signed copy of your award letter, is the school asking for other paperwork? Make sure you submit everything on time so you don’t jeopardize your financial aid.


Download our free brochures on:

Scholarships and grants

Student loans

Applying for financial aid

Printed from the Iowa College Student Aid Commission website on April 27, 2018 at 1:34am.