What Is a FAFSA Award Letter?

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

A financial aid award letter explains the total amount of monetary assistance a school will offer you to offset its costs.

Key Takeaways

  • An award letter details the FAFSA funding offered to a student.
  • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the online form you need to submit to get any federal financial aid.
  • Financial aid award letters detail how much financial assistance a school offers you.
  • There are four main types of financial aid: grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans.

Understanding FAFSA Award Letters

Award letters help families budget and plan for college expenses. The award letter outlines the type and amount of all financial aid that is offered to the student, including grants (such as Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants), loans (for instance, Stafford and Perkins Loans), scholarships, and any work-study eligibility.

Unless otherwise specified, the award letter pertains only to the upcoming school year. Upon receipt of the award letter and deciding which school to attend, students must inform the selected school how much of the award (financial aid) will be accepted.

If you submitted a FAFSA and were approved for financial aid, each school that accepted you will send you a financial aid award letter. While there’s no standard format for these letters, each explains how much financial assistance the school is offering you. You’ll receive the letter electronically or through snail mail (or both).

In general, each financial aid award letter explains:

  • The cost of attendance (COA). Your COA is an estimate of what you will pay for one year of school, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation.
  • Your expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is a number the school uses to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible for. In general, the lower the EFC, the more funding you can get. Note that this is not the amount of money your family is required to pay.
  • Details (and dollar amounts). These pertain to whatever grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans the school is offering you.

Schools typically send out financial aid award letters close to when they send their acceptance letters. If you have questions about the timing, reach out to the school’s financial aid office

FAFSA and Financial Aid

Financial aid is money that helps you pay for college or a career school. It can come in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans. If you’re starting to think about college, you’ve probably come across the acronym FAFSA. It stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid—a form you need to fill out to get any federal financial aid. Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine whether you’ll get financial aid—and if so, how much.

After you submit your FAFSA—and depending on whether you qualify for aid based on the information you provide—you’ll receive a financial aid award letter from each school you list on it. Each letter explains the federal and nonfederal financial aid options the school is offering you.

You’re not obligated to accept the aid that is offered in your award package. You can compare your offers from different schools before you decide.

Whether you accept or decline an offer, you need to respond to the school to let it know your decision. Be sure to check each school’s deadline, so you reply on time.