Deciphering Financial Aid Award Letters

By now your family has received financial aid award letters from the colleges where you have been accepted. Comparing award letters and deciding which college is the best match can be confusing and overwhelming! For help understanding your award letters, read more below and check out our on-demand webinar on Deciphering Award Letters.

Important definitions:

Award Letter – An offer sent from a college or university to the student that details how much financial support the student is eligible for. The award letter is sent following the student's submission of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and application to attend a college or university. 

Cost of Attendance (COA) - A figure provided by colleges and/or college financial aid offices that estimates the total costs of attending that particular school for a period of one year. Included in the estimate are all reasonable expenses such as tuition, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses and transportation. 

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) - This is the number that’s used to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid. This number results from the financial information you provide in your FAFSA. Your EFC is reported to you on your Student Aid Report (SAR). It is the amount of money that a student's family is expected to contribute to college costs for one year. The EFC considers family income, assets, size of current household and the number of family members currently enrolled in college. 

What's included in an award letter? 

Types of Financial Aid Offered:  

  • Scholarships and Grants 
  • Federal Work Study Program
  • Federal Perkins Loan
  • Federal Direct Loans 
  • Federal Direct PLUS Loan 
  • Cost of Attendance (COA) 
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  • School's Financial Aid Process 

Can I appeal the decision for my financial aid package if I have special circumstances? 

The answer is yes. The following situations can be taken into consideration: 

  • Recent unemployment of family member(s) 
  • Medical, dental, or nursing care expenses not covered by health insurance
  • Changes in the family’s income and/or assets 
  • Disability/death or divorce 
  • Homeless youth 
  • Parents incarcerated 

Need more information about paying for college? 

You can schedule a one-on-one consultation with our College Access Counselor! Send your questions to or visit our College Access Couneslor page to access a submission form and more resources. 




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