Understanding Your Award Letter

What is an award letter?

An award letter is a document sent to the student from colleges in which he/she applied offering various types of financial aid. This letter is sent once the financial aid office has evaluated the student’s FAFSA as well as other applications in order to determine the student’s aid eligibility. 

Sections to look for

Most award letters will be broken into three main sections. The letter should outline the aid offered to the student, the cost to attend the school, and what the student should expect to pay if he or she chooses to attend. Award letters are usually separated into three columns; a fall and spring semester column and then a totals column.  This format is to help the student understand the aid offered and the burden they are accepting.


There are four main types of aid offered: Grants, Scholarships, Work-Study, and Loans. The Awards Letter should break out the list into the sections with the types of aid the school is offering. The aid offered in this section will contain federal, state, and institutional awards.


The amount listed in the award letter is known as direct cost. Direct cost covers tuition and fees as well as room and board. This cost may vary based on the type of tuition charged, housing options, or the number of meals in your meal plan.  

Estimated Remaining Balance

So now onto the big question: what is it really going to cost me? The remaining balance consists of the direct cost of the school minus the awards they outlined in the first section. But don’t be fooled! This is not a true estimate.

First, it’s important to know that loan amounts aren’t guaranteed. In order to qualify for certain loans a credit check may need to take place. Even then you do not know the amount you will be approved for. Second, federal work-study is not a guaranteed fixed income. You may not work the amount of hours and receive the amount of compensation indicated in your award letter. Knowing how to estimate your student bill will provide you with a more accurate way to calculate the true balance.

Award Letter Acceptance

Lastly, receiving an award letter is not your last step in the financial aid process. There is still more to do. The next step will be to compare this award letter with all the other award letters you have received from other institutions. We have a tool that can help you gather all this information in one location.

College Cost Comparison Calculator

Once you have evaluated all the award letters and you have made your decision as to what college you plan to attend, you will need to accept the awards you want. You definitely will want to accept any scholarships and grants. It’s free money!

Don’t forget to download the College Cost Comparison Calculator. We guarantee it will help you compare all institutions on an even level playing field.