FAQs About College Offer Letters

When you’re accepted into a college, they will put together a customized financial aid package for you. This is known as a college offer letter. Some colleges may call it a merit letter or financial aid award letter. Regardless of the exact name they use, all acceptance letters serve the same purpose.

Student thinking about offer letters

What’s included in an offer letter?

The college offer letter includes details of your financial aid package. It tells you the Cost of Attendance (COA) for one year, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and the total financial aid that’s being offered. It also breaks down how much you’re being offered in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study and federal student loans.

Why is a college offer letter important?

A college award letter helps your family budget and plan for college expenses. College is expensive. Very few families in America can afford to pay the full cost of attendance from their personal savings. The award letter details the types and total amount of financial aid that’s being offered to the student. This gives families a better idea of how much they have to pay from their pocket and they can budget accordingly.

What Is COA?

COA refers to Cost of Attendance. It includes the cost of tuition, room and board, fees, text books, supplies, and transportation. Each college uses their own unique formula for calculating its total COA. Some colleges may also include additional items such as eligible study-abroad program costs and computer purchases among others.

What’s the difference between grants, scholarships, and loans?

Grants and scholarships are types of gift aid. You won’t need to pay back the money that you receive by way of grants and scholarships. Grants are need-based gift, while scholarships are merit-based gift aid.

Loans refers to the financial aid that you will need to pay back with interest. Your award letter may list different types of loans. Each loan will have its own unique terms and conditions.

What does the work-study component of my offer letter mean?

Work-study is a type of financial aid that’s different from grants, scholarships, and loans. It’s not free money, neither do you have to pay back the money. Instead you will have to work to earn this money. Depending on the college, the job may be on campus or off. There is a cap on the number of hours you can work. You can’t work more hours than you’re allocated.

Do I have to accept all the aid offered to me?

No, you don’t. You can accept all, accept only a part of it or decline all the aid offered to you. Ideally, you should accept all the grant and scholarship money in your financial aid package. This is free money that you don’t have to return or pay interest on. The federal loans are the next step if you still need more money to cover the gaps. Just be sure to do your research.

Can I appeal an offer letter for more money?

Yes, you can negotiate your financial aid package and ask for more but only if you have good reason for your appeal. Colleges may consider your appeal if you can show that your financial situation has changed since you filed the FAFSA. Valid reasons could be recent unemployment or loss of income, death of an earning family member, or recent medical expenses. Not all colleges may have the budget to increase your financial aid package, however. But those that can afford it, will consider it.

What do I do after I receive my financial aid offer letter?

Take time to read and understand the information and instructions in your award letter but don’t be in a hurry to respond. You should wait to receive award letters from the other colleges you’ve applied to. Then compare the letters to determine which is the best offer for you. Each award letter will include instructions on how to respond to the offer as well as the deadline for accepting. Make sure to respond well before the deadline. Colleges usually do not consider late responses.

How do I compare offer letters?

Comparing offer letters can be a little confusing because each college uses their own unique format and terminology. One way to simplify this comparison is by using College Raptor’s free Offer Letter Comparison Tool. Upload your offer letters and the tool does the calculation. It’ll give you the net price of attending different colleges. This side-by-side comparison will give you a sense of which college is affordable for you and which isn’t.

Who can I ask for help if I don’t understand my college offer letter?

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call the school’s financial aid office and get the clarifications you need.

When can I expect to receive my award letters?

There’s no fixed deadline for colleges to send out award letters. Every college follows a different procedure for allocating financial aid. All colleges listed on your FAFSA form will receive your financial information immediately after you submit the form. Most colleges wait to receive all applications so all students get a fair chance to receive aid. You can expect to start receiving college award letters starting early to mid-April.

Be sure to check out College Raptor’s Offer Letter Comparison Tool!

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