Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Offers

Resources to help you pay for college.

By spring of your senior year you’ve probably applied to college, filled out your financial aid forms, and been accepted by schools you’re interested in going to. Now you should start thinking about how much each of these colleges will cost. The financial aid offer will help you understand the costs for your first year of college and every year you plan to attend.

What is a financial aid offer?

A financial aid offer shows how much financial aid you can receive when attending a specific college. Financial aid offers are also called financial aid award letters, aid notifications, financial aid awards, or award notifications. No matter what the colleges call it, this offer will help you determine how much college will cost.

When should I expect my financial offer?

If you’re a first-year student applying to four-year colleges, you’ll get your financial aid award letter after receiving a college acceptance. While most financial aid award letters arrive between February and May, some colleges may send an offer as early as November. They may also package the financial aid offer with your acceptance letter. If you’re a first-year student applying to two-year colleges, you can expect your financial aid offers later in the spring or early summer.

If you’re a continuing college student or transfer student, you should expect your financial aid offers later in the spring and even into the summer.

No matter where you are on your college journey, if you think you should have received a financial aid offer and haven’t, you should call the college financial aid office to check your financial aid status.

How do I receive financial aid offers?

Financial aid awards may arrive in the mail, via email, or on your student portal. If you expect to receive the financial aid offer via regular mail, let your household know to be on the lookout. If you expect it to be sent via email, check consistently, including your spam and junk folders. If posted to your student portal, make sure you have the correct login information. The student portal login information is usually included in the admission offer.

Why is it important to read a financial aid offer?

College can be expensive, and for many students, costs are one of the most important considerations when making college decisions. Financial aid awards show how much aid you’ll get from the college, state, and federal government to lower college costs for you and your family.

What does a financial aid offer include?

The financial aid offers you receive may look different from one college to another. Let’s review a few important components that will help you understand your financial aid and what to do next. If any of these items aren’t listed in your aid offer, look for this additional information on the college website and call the financial aid office.

  • Your plan to enroll and where you’ll live in college. When you apply to college and fill out financial aid forms, you tell the college whether you will attend full time or part time and if you’ll live on campus. These decisions impact how much financial aid you may receive. You should confirm the college knows your current enrollment status and housing decisions.
  • The college costs before financial aid. Knowing the starting costs of attending college helps students understand how helpful their financial aid really is. These costs usually include tuition and fees, housing and meal plan, and estimates for indirect expenses like books, supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. You can find these costs on the college’s website or the college’s profile on BigFuture .
  • The financial aid the college is offering. You may see three different types of financial aid listed on your financial aid offer—grants and scholarships, loans, and work-study.
    • Scholarships and grants are the best types of financial aid because they do not have to be paid back.
    • Loans are borrowed money that may accumulate interest and must be repaid.
    • Work-study gives you the option to get a job, usually on campus, to earn money throughout the school year.
  • Next steps after receiving your financial aid offer. The financial aid offer is not the end of the financial aid process. You’ll need to take additional steps to make sure you remain eligible for the financial aid being offered. The next steps might include accepting your financial aid, filling out additional forms, and completing loan requirements. These will vary per college, so check your student portal or call the financial aid office if you don’t see any listed.

The financial aid offer is the key to figuring out how much college will cost you. Next, get ready to review and compare your financial aid offers so you understand how much you’ll need to pay for college.