College Financial Aid Award Letter Deciphered!


By: Belinda Gonzalez-Leon, Ed. D., MBA

Premier Educational Consulting, LLC

Ph: (305) 494-9389

Para leer en Español


DORAL, FL – College financial aid award letters need to be read carefully so that you truly understand costs and monies being awarded. Not all costs on your award letter are actual and not all financial aid is free money. Examine carefully headings and categories to understand how the school is trying to anticipate all costs for a year of college as well as all the possible ways you can cover those expenses.

On October 1stof each year, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opens for students and families to apply for college financial aid. The information you enter on the application is applied to a specific formula which determines how much your family should contribute toward college costs. This, in turn, allows a determination to be made about how much Federal, State, and college level financial assistance can be awarded.

Anticipated college costs include that which you must pay such as tuition and fees. If you are staying at the school dorms or using their meal plan, those expenses are also listed but not all students will incur these costs. Colleges may also indicate textbook and transportation expenses which are items that you will spend money on while attending school, but those are not upfront costs. These expenses will vary on how you choose to buy books and get to class.

Focus on the costs that are mandatory- such as tuition. The award letter will indicate how you may want to pay for these expenses. It will list grants, scholarships, loans, job opportunities and perhaps savings plan parents may have invested in. You have a choice in what aid you want to accept. Some of these monies are gifts, some have to be earned, and others are to be paid back at a later date.

Grants and scholarships are free money. They are awarded because you met some type of criteria- it could be academic, financial, or activity related like a sport or hobby. Grants are available at a federal, state, or local level. Scholarships come from a variety of sources including private organizations or the college itself. In Florida, the state has available a scholarship called Bright Futures. Some private scholarships will not be listed on your award letter. These funds might be sent directly to the school or the student.

You may be offered loans for costs not covered by gifted money. Loans are available to students or their parents. Loans have to be paid back and they accumulate interest charges. Some loans charge interest immediately and others defer interest until you graduate. These loans are not mandatory and you indicate on the award letter whether you accept it or not. Private loans can also be obtained independently by the student or family through different financial organizations.

Some students may qualify for College Work Study (CWS). This is a part-time job on campus that will pay the student to help offset college expenses. This money is paid directly to the student as a wage and does not have to be used for any specific college bill. The benefit of college work-study jobs is that the income generated by the student is not counted as money available to pay for tuition when the following year’s FAFSA is calculated. Non-CWS jobs’ income will count in FAFSA calculations.

You may also have some type of college savings fund. The most popular ones are the Florida Prepaid Program or a 529 Savings account. These will not show on your award letter. You have the choice to use these savings now or for future education. Depending on the college you attend, Florida Prepaid may not apply completely. Be sure you know exactly how much money you have available in college savings plans so that you can calculate how much to apply towards your costs.

The most important part about financial aid is that you find out who your financial aid advisor is. Get this person’s direct phone number and call them with any and all questions. Call them often. Let them know who you are and what your circumstances are. Ask your financial aid advisor a million questions. And always, always, ask for more financial aid money.



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