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Go Ask Mom

College Bound: Understanding financial aid award letters

Posted March 20, 2013

Editor's Note: This is a three-part article that provides steps to determine your families out-of-pocket expenses to a college once you have viewed your school's financial aid award offer.

At this time, most students should have completed their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and any other financial aid forms required from the colleges they applied to or are currently attending.

By mid-April, students should receive a Financial Aid Award letter from each of those schools. This letter provides you with each of the various types of financial awards the school is able to offer you in order to pay your college expenses.

The award letter is based on information obtained from the FAFSA and takes into account your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). It then subtracts that from the schools Cost of Attendance (COA) - currently tuition, room and board, textbooks, transportation, and personal expenses. The COA is a prescribed number from the college. Your amount may be less, as they estimate transportation, books and personal expenses, as well as room and board, if there are options. The financial aid award cannot exceed your financial need.

To begin evaluating your award letter in the most efficient manner, it is best to have the following information available for each of your schools that you are looking at attending:

  • Tuition per semester or yearly
  • Room per semester or yearly
  • Board per semester or yearly
  • Required fees (technology, green, SGA, etc)
  • Estimated cost for books
  • Transportation expenses

The amounts for each of these categories will vary from school to school. Additionally, depending on the options available for housing, those numbers may require you to estimate.

Books will also vary by whether you can rent, buy used or must purchase new. Finally, transportation will be dependent on the particular schools location. You must know each of these numbers, and their variables, in order to adequately determine which school offers the most money. You may be surprised to find that many of the private and out-of-state schools are just as affordable as your local college.

The next installment on Friday describes each of the various types of awards and the questions you need to know about accepting them.

Christine M. Hall, Ed.D., is owner of CMH College Consulting in Cary. Hall, who has children of her own, offers advice on the college application and decision process here on Go Ask Mom from time to time.


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  • angelienna Mar 21, 2013

    I look forward to reading more of this segment...