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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Demystifying the College Financial Aid Award Letter

Maryline Michel Kulewicz and Tracy Sullivan of College 101 Admissions Consultants

Arriving in mailboxes now are the students’ financial aid award letters! Getting into college is an exciting time; however, the award letters can often cause confusion. Colleges tend to use different jargon to relay the same message which can affect making an informed decision. College 101 recommends reviewing the financial aid award letters as a family, jotting down any questions, and creating a spreadsheet to compare ALL the costs the student will incur for the full year of school. Once in place, the family can contact the college’s Financial Aid Office if any clarification is needed 
Award letters are prepared by each college detailing the student’s financial aid package such as need-based grants, work-study opportunities, merit scholarships, and eligible federal student loans. The letters are sent after a family has submitted the FAFSA, federal need-based aid, and depending on the college the CSS Profile, institutional need-based aid. 
A few things to note when reviewing the award letters:
• Create a cost comparison spreadsheet to compare all schools - it is critical that you are comparing apples to apples. FREE RESOURCE: If you would like a copy of our cost comparison spreadsheet - email us!
• If your child is living on-campus, make sure the “Room & Board’’ is included in the Cost of Attendance (COA). Recently one of our students received a letter from a local college and the cost of room and board was not included. That is a significant expense that cannot be ignored. Every college has a page that includes the COA.  
• The award letter includes direct costs (tuition, room & board, and fees) in addition to indirect costs, such as personal expenses, books, and transportation. The indirect costs are often estimated low. Families should develop expense projections based on the student’s needs. For example, if the student is attending a major city college, the lifestyle will be more expensive (restaurants, music venues, ball games) than attending a college in a rural area where the student’s free time is mostly spent on campus. Transportation costs are also a factor if the student is attending a college not close to home. 
• Scholarships and loans are often combined in the same section which can cause confusion as to what is free money and what needs to be paid back. Be sure to separate the award types on your spreadsheet. Loans are either unsubsidized loans (interest starts to accrue in college) or subsidized loans (interest starts to accrue 6 months after the student leaves school). 
• Loans don’t need to be scary. Over a four-year period, the student can borrow $27,000 in FAFSA loans and at the lowest possible interest rate available, which can be affordable. If a student chooses a school where the tuition is significantly higher than the family’s resources, it could result in the student incurring significant debt to be repaid after graduation. Families need to consider the impact of such a costly decision. FREE RESOURCE: Go to (valuable website!) and use the loan simulator. Walk your child through how much they would need to pay each month based on the loan amount, coincide this with a budget, and let the facts speak for themselves!  
• If there are scholarships, does the letter state it is for all 4 years? What requirements are needed to retain the scholarship? The acceptance letter should clarify the terms of the scholarships. What if your child transfers, this is usually not stated in the letter, but would they need to pay the scholarship back? If there is any ambiguity - call the college’s Financial Aid Office.
• Don’t forget the value of state colleges! Massachusetts has competitive state colleges which often cost less than private colleges. They provide a great education, too. A name brand school does not equate to a better education!  
Fully understanding the financial aid package is a critical piece in the college process.  Congratulations to your student! Take your time reviewing all options, and make sure all of your questions are answered before making any decisions!
College 101 Admissions Consultants LLC has two offices located in Columbus, OH and Wrentham, MA. They are ready to support you and your child on their college search journey!  Reach out anytime via email at [email protected] or by phone at (508) 380-3845. Services are also located on their website,