Your financial aid award letter has finally arrived! What happens next? If you’re confused by all the weird jargon and complicated numbers, you’re not alone! Financial aid offer letters can be difficult to make sense of. So that students and their families can accurately compare offers and make the best decision, HeyCollege simplifies this process into three steps:
Step 1: Decode Your Financial Aid Award Letter with One Click
Some colleges have started using a user-friendly financial aid award letter format. It’s called the “Shopping Sheet.” For schools that still use their own award letters, we recommend using a tool like Offer Letter Decoder or DecidEd by MoneyThink. They’re free! Either tool will help you determine what the school is really offering in terms of gift aid versus loans. All you need to do is upload a pdf or screenshot of your financial aid award letter.
Step 2: Compare Your Financial Aid Award Letters Side-by-Side
Next, input your numbers into this handy analyzer. It offers a true side-by-side comparison of costs. If a school doesn’t list its overall total cost in its letter, no worries. The awesome website Tuition Tracker has you covered.
Step 3: Predict Your Future Financial Aid Award Letters (Here’s How)
Last but not least, remember that your financial aid award letter may only apply to your first year. That’s why it’s important to know if your college practices “front-loading.” Colleges that front-load offer more generous financial aid the first year to attract students. Then they reduce your aid in subsequent years. To find out, here’s how to check the government website College Navigator:
- After searching for a college by name, expand the college’s “financial aid” tab.
- Check the section “Full-time Beginning Undergraduate Students.” Locate the average grant/scholarship aid.
- Below that, you’ll find another section: “All Undergraduate Students.” Locate the average grant here, as well. Is it less than the average grant in the “beginning” section? That means the school is front-loading. But if the two amounts are roughly the same, that’s a good sign! It means your future financial aid award letters will likely stay the same.
A Final Recommendation: Appeal for More Aid
Once families break down the financial aid award letter and see a college’s true cost, it often makes sense to appeal for more aid. How do you increase your chances of success? We suggest the following:
- Act fast—ideally as soon as you receive your offer! The sooner the better.
- Look on the college’s website for guidelines about their process. Is there a specific form they require? Following the exact procedure will increase your odds of success.
- If possible, address your request to a specific person in the school’s financial aid office. If you don’t already have a contact, you can call the office or look online. Check the financial aid department listing on the school’s website.
Financial aid appeal letters can be most effective when written by students. Parents can help with filling in financial details or providing any necessary documentation. HeyCollege students are able to write effective letters quickly and easily. Getting started is always the hardest part, so we provide suggestions for how to word their requests. We also help students demonstrate interest since some colleges save their most generous offers for students they think are likely to enroll. As we tell students—there’s no downside to appealing for more financial aid. In fact, it could be the easiest money you ever make!