College Ave Corner

Understanding and Reviewing Financial Aid Letters

If you were accepted to multiple universities (congratulations!), you likely felt a great deal of excitement when you received your letters. But then your excitement was probably quickly replaced with confusion, and maybe even anxiety, when you tried to make sense of your financial aid letters.

After all, universities don’t have a standard way of presenting the information, and it can be hard to see what offer is best.

The good news is that it doesn’t need to be confusing.

Elements of financial aid letters

The first step to evaluating financial aid letters is to understand the elements they include. Each letter will include:

Factors to consider when reviewing financial aid letters

Contact the university’s financial aid officer listed in your offer letter to gather more information about your offer. It’s a good idea to do this by email so you have a written record of the conversation. You’ll want to know the following information:

Additional costs

Some universities will only list tuition in the “cost of attendance,” but remember that you’ll have to cover housing, food, transportation, books, supplies, additional fees, and other living expenses. In addition, if the school is far away from home, you may want to consider the costs to fly home during school breaks.

Estimated tuition cost increases

Ask them how much tuition and other fees have increased recently and if they can give you an idea of how likely they are to increase over the coming years. You might also be able to find some of this information on your own online.

The average graduation rate at the university

This should give you a sense of how long it may take you to earn your degree. For example, if the average graduation rate for students is five years, you might want to calculate your tuition costs over that period. This is a safer approach.

Scholarship terms

If the school is offering you scholarships, learn as much as possible about what those include. For example:

Although it’s not fun, think about worst-case scenarios when you’re considering your options. For example, if you have an athletic scholarship and you get injured and can’t play, how will you continue to pay for college?

Loan terms

Your financial aid offer letter may include federal student loans. You may choose to accept or decline these. Loan terms vary significantly, so before you accept any, be sure you understand all the terms. For example:

Work-study program terms

If work-study opportunities are included in your financial aid offer, ask the admissions counselor:

Additional questions

In addition, you’ll want to know:

What to do next with financial aid letters

Tip: If you have the opportunity to discuss this with a financial aid officer, politely let them know why you’re asking for the change. If you’re asking for additional funds because you got a better offer elsewhere, you may be asked to share that letter.