What is the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet?

The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet was designed to help standardize college award letters. The U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) joined together to create this sheet, which can help you choose between award packages and compare college expenses. If you’re new to the college application process and want to learn more about the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, we’ll help answer some of your questions.

When was the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet created?

The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet was first introduced in 2012 and initially became available in the 2013-2014 award year, so it’s still a fairly new concept. If you were applying for college before that time, you wouldn’t have seen one just yet. But whether you’re returning to college to finish what you started, going for a professional degree, or you’re applying for an undergraduate degree for the first time, there’s a chance you’ll receive a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet instead of, or in addition to, a college award letter.

What should a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet include?

It should be an easy-to-interpret breakdown of all costs and award money being offered in addition to detailed information about the specific college. This should include grant and gift aid money, student loan offers, net costs and prices, graduation rates, estimated monthly loan payments after graduation, and so on. This sheet has been designed to replace the traditional college award letter, but may also be used in addition to a college award letter or as a cover letter.

How will I receive a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet?

Use of the sheet is voluntary, so not all colleges will provide one. Of the ones who do choose to use the sheet, each school can have their own method of distributing them. Many schools, for instance, provide the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet online, so it might be accessible to the student once they log in to their account rather than coming with your award letter. If you’re not sure, just ask your school’s financial aid office whether they offer the shopping sheet and how you can get to it.

Is there information included in the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet that college award letters typically don’t include?

Yes. For instance, it will include information about repaying your loans, loan default rates, and more. The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet also includes a glossary that defines terms listed throughout the sheet, making it easier for students and parents to understand everything they’re provided, which helps take the guesswork out of things. For the most part, a lot of the information is the same, but it’s just delivered differently—clearer, to the point, and easy to understand.

What other benefits can the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet provide?

If you’re applying to multiple schools that all voluntarily decided to provide a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, making comparisons and a final decision has never been easier. By comparing the same sheets from different institutions, students can clearly see the cost of all prospective schools. It’s also easier to distinguish between gift aid and federal loans, so students and parents can see exactly what’s being offered by each college.

Are all colleges required to provide a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet?

Colleges aren’t currently required to send a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet to students, but many schools have voluntarily started to distribute it. Legislation has also been proposed which could eventually require all colleges to use the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

The colleges I applied to didn’t provide a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet—what can I do?

Because not all colleges are required to supply students with a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, you may still be receiving traditional college award letters without this information. Since college award letters can sometimes be confusing and inconsistent between schools, you’ll want to be sure that any of your questions are answered before making any final decisions. For example, if you’re not sure whether a specific amount of money is being offered as gift aid or as a federal loan, don’t hesitate to reach out to the college’s financial office to ask. They’ll be happy to help you understand your offer in detail so that you can make an informed decision.

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