Questions to ask About Your Financial Aid Award Letter

on March 21, 2017

It is important to evaluate college affordability when considering which college’s offer of admission to accept. Financial aid award letters can be confusing, so make sure you understand the details of the financial aid award letter so you can make an informed, intelligent decision concerning college affordability.


Ask these questions to help you understand the financial aid package as described in the financial aid award letter. Some of the questions you will be able to answer on your own. Others will require information from the college financial aid office.

  1. Does the cost of attendance include only direct costs or also include indirect costs such as textbooks and transportation to and from school? What is the total college cost — including both direct and indirect costs? Are the allowances for textbooks and transportation realistic?
  2. Are there any hidden costs that aren't covered, such as activities fees, lab fees, technology fees, etc.? How much should you allow for hidden costs?
  3. What is the net price, the difference between the cost of attendance and just gift aid? Gift aid is grants, scholarships and other money that does not need to be repaid.
  4. Are the scholarships and grants for one year, or are they renewable for all four years? What are the requirements to renew the scholarships and grants? Do you need to maintain a minimum GPA? If so, is it attainable?
  5. Does the college practice front-loading of grants? Does the amount of gift aid remain similar in subsequent years, or does it decrease?
  6. If you are receiving an athletic scholarship, what happens if you get injured and can't continue on the team?
  7. Carefully distinguish loans from grants in the financial aid award letter. Look for the words "Stafford" and "PLUS" or an abbreviation like "L" or "LN".
  8. Is there a gap? Does the financial aid offer meet the full demonstrated financial need, or is there unmet need?
  9. How much will you have to borrow to pay for the college costs? Estimate your debt at graduation.
  10. Does the college have a summer work expectation or require a minimum student contribution?
  11. How much will you need to work during the academic year? How many hours per week? Are work-study jobs generally available? Will the job be related to your academic major?
  12. What happens if you win a private scholarship? Will the college reduce its own grants or will it reduce loans first? What is the college’s scholarship displacement policy or outside scholarship policy?

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