What is an Award Letter?

An award letter is an official notification from a school where you have been accepted, and outlines your financial aid award package.

The Process

You’ve applied for financial aid and received your award letter, but what does it really mean?  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 will they be paid back to the school? Understanding your financial aid award letter can be a little confusing, but armed with a little information, you will be better informed so that you know what questions to ask.

Understanding Your Award Letter

After completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the financial aid office at the school(s) you listed on the FAFSA, will receive your Institutional Student Information Report (ISIR).  The ISIR contains all your financial information you reported on the FAFSA. From the ISIR, and perhaps a secondary institutional application, the financial aid officer (FAO) will determine your eligibility for programs from the institution, federal government, or other sources of aid and then send (or email) you an award letter. 

Most schools will require that you sign the award letter to show that you are accepting the aid offer.  Just because a school offers you an award, does not mean you have to accept all that was offered.  You have the option to accept it, decline it, or decrease the award to fit your needs. 

What Should You Look for in an Award Letter?

You should look at the aid pack- age offered and compare it to the cost of attendance and the amount you will actually need to meet your needs. Review the Top 10 Questions Premeds Should Ask Medical School Financial Aid Officers for more tips.

Terms to Understand

Grants and Scholarships are typically free money, also known as gift aid, which does not have to be paid back, but can have some qualifying terms and conditions.

Loans are often referred to as self-help, and need to be repaid. Loans may be obtained from a variety of lenders, including the federal government, schools, and private or alternative lenders.

Tuition and Fees are basic costs for your education program at a specific institution.

Cost of Attendance typically includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, personal transportation, health insurance, and other required fees and expenses. You do not necessarily need to borrow for the full cost of attendance; it’s helpful to only borrow what you need to cover your costs.

What Now?

Compare your award letters from the schools you are considering. If you are receiving any other sources of aid that are not listed on the award letter you need to inform the FAO. If the school requires additional action, be sure to follow their directions. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call the financial aid office, they are there to help. This is a lot of information to absorb and understand; however, there are numerous resources to help you navigate your financial aid award letter.

Resources to Help You:

Financial Information, Resources, Services, and Tools (FIRST)

MedLoans® Organizer and Calculator (MLOC)

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The MedLoans® Organizer and Calculator was developed to assist medical students and residents with managing their education debt.


Get practical information on budgeting, money management, credit, debt management, scholarship searches, and more.

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