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 the following information, you will be better equipped to read and understand what you are being offered.  

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 of the financial information that 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. This aid package will then be sent to you in form of an award letter. Most schools will require that you sign the award letter to show that you are accepting the aid offer. Be aware that just because a school offers you an award, you do not have to accept it. You actually 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 and possible questions that will ignite conversation between you and the financial aid officer.

Terms to Understand

Grants and Scholarships are typically free money (also known as gift aid) which 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. 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 and setting up a budget can help you determine how much you need to borrow.

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. Check out some of FIRST’s resources below.

Resources to Help You:

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

MedLoans® Organizer and Calculator (MLOC)

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

SALT

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

Contact FIRST

655 K Street, NW, Suite 100
Washington, DC 20001-2399