You’ve applied for financial aid and received your aid offer, but do you know how to interpret the aid offer? Have you been offered grants and scholarships, or will you need to borrow and pay back student loans? Are the loans offered through the federal government or the institution you’ll be attending? Understanding your financial aid offer can be a little confusing, but with knowledge of the following information, you will be better equipped to decipher your financial aid offer.
After completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and sometimes a secondary institutional application (check with the financial aid office or the school’s financial aid website to see which applications are necessary), the financial aid office at the school(s) you listed on the FAFSA, will receive your Institutional Student Information Report (ISIR). The ISIR contains the financial information that you reported on the FAFSA, and from the ISIR (and sometimes the secondary institutional application) the financial aid officer (FAO) will determine your eligibility for aid at their school. This could be financial aid from the institution, federal government, or other programs.
What's Included in an Aid Offer?
You should look at the aid package offered and compare it to the cost of attendance and the amount of money you will need to meet your needs and expenses. Review the Top 10 Questions Premeds Should Ask Medical School Financial Aid Officers for more tips and possible questions that can ignite conversation between you and the financial aid officer.
Terms to Understand
Grants and Scholarships are typically free money (also known as gift aid), that does not have to be repaid. Some of these resources may have qualifying terms and conditions, so be sure to understand the requirements.
Loans are often referred to as self-help and need to be repaid (often with interest). Loans may be obtained from a variety of lenders, including the federal government, schools, and/or private lenders. Find out if there are any loan origination fees associated with the loans you are considering.
Tuition and Fees are basic costs to attend and receive education at a specific institution. Along with associated fees for things like health services, insurance, or technology, these costs are paid directly to the school. Check the school’s cost of attendance for this information.
Cost of Attendance (COA) is information provided to students on an annual basis and includes the cost to attend the institution. The COA includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, food and rent, personal expenses, transportation, health insurance, technology, and other required fees. You do not need to borrow for the full cost of attendance. It’s helpful to only borrow what you need to cover the costs you need to meet. Setting up a budget can help you determine how much you need to borrow each year.
Compare your aid offers from the schools you are considering. If you are receiving any other sources of aid not listed, inform the FAO at the other school(s). If the school requires additional action, be sure to follow their directions.
Most schools will require you to indicate the aid you want to accept.
You can accept all the aid offered, or you can adjust the offer to fit your needs.
If you have any questions, call the financial aid office. They are there to help you through the aid process.