Student Financial Aid Award Letters

By Christina Tangalakis

Once you receive an award letter you have moved up the financial aid ladder one rung. You have moved from financial aid applicant to financial aid recipient.

The award letter, or letters if you have applied to more than one school, can and should be used as a critical tool in your decision about where to attend school.

More and more students are waiting for their award letters before they make their intentions known by the national day of intent deadline of May 1. This strategy has not gone unnoticed by financial aid offices around the nation. We all strive to get our letters out, especially to incoming freshman prospects, as soon as possible.

Why this is a good strategy is evident when you look at more than one award letter. Awards among schools can vary by thousands of dollars even to the same student. And, as any one can attest, there is an intensely persuasive quality to waving money in front of someone’s face. For students who have the ability and resources to apply to more than one school, most financial aid advisors would strongly suggest you do. People in financial aid offices call this strategy “getting to yes.” Once the institution has accepted you and you have received an award offer, you hold all the cards. Now, with a stacked hand, you can decide what institution you wish to attend and you also have the ability to use your award letter from a competitor’s institution to ask whether your school of choice can sweeten the pot to keep you from “jumping ship.”

Most financial aid counselors agree that it never hurts to ask. Some financial aid administrators hate that there are experts “out there” advocating for students to negotiate their award. But if everyone is getting this advice and you’re not, guess who’s at a disadvantage? So, definitely consider negotiating your award package.

Schools are required to include important consumer information in your award letter. Your letter must include your cost of attendance, your federal and institutional expected family contribution, and how much of your need is met and how much remains unmet. Make very sure your cost of attendance, which is almost always an estimate, is an appropriate budget for you. If you are awarded any institutional scholarships for merit or talent, you will want to know whether that award is for just the one year, or whether it is renewable for future years. What if your grade point average falls? Will you still be eligible for the college scholarship, or for your other aid, such as student loans, for that matter.

If you are awarded college student loans, you must be notified about the interest rate or rates if you have been awarded more than one loan. If you are automatically awarded a work-study job, ask how many hours you are expected to work and whether there is any other aid to replace your work-study should working become a hardship to you.

Author Christina Tangalakis is a financial aid counselor at Central Washington University, who writes for Learn about student loans, college scholarships, and student grants on this free website. Topics include: How to apply for college scholarships, student loans such as the PLUS Loan and Stafford Loan, Pell Grants, financial aid from state governments, and much more.

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