Decode Your College Award Letter

Financial Awards

It’s time again, families with Senior students should start receiving acceptance letters–congrats and no worries if you student didn’t get into their dream school! Research suggests that 82% of all students that did not get into their first choice felt they were in the right place by the end of their 1st year.

Now with those letters in, your family will have a better idea of where your child could be attending college and just how much it will cost.  With your acceptance letter, you should also receive your financial award letter.  These letters will be comprised of merit offers, scholarships, loans and works study.  Unfortunately, there is no uniformity to the letters and they can be very confusing.  To quote a colleague, “Obfuscation is an effective way to keep parents off balance” thus making them feel they have a better award than they do.

Not fully understanding your awards and the potential to appeal them costs families millions of dollars a year.  In this 2 part series, we will decode the financial aid award letter and give you the top 5 strategies to be successful with this part of the college planning process.  If you want to see our Financial Award Analysis presentation, please button below and we will send you the link and password to the video recording.

College Acceptance and Award Letter

1. Cost of Attendance (COA) or “Sticker Price”

  • Sometimes the school that looks the cheapest can actually offer the worst aid packages.
  • This is the average amount that a typical student spends on tuition, rent, food, books, and social activities. These estimates are usually pretty accurate and they’re updated each year by the schools.
  • You can call a school’s financial aid office if this is not clearly listed or broken down in your award letter.

2. Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

  • This is the minimum amount that you’ll be expected to pay to the college or university.
  • Families often find that the figure the federal government believes they can afford to pay is much more than they would agree with.
  • Ensure that the college correctly listed this number for your family. It could determine the type of aid they will offer.

 3. Financial Need

  • This is the monetary gap between the school’s true cost and your EFC.
  • This figure tells you how much the college and the state will pay to help your family manage the college bill (IE: how much financial aid you will receive).

4. Scholarships, Loans, Grants, Work/Study Programs

  • Is the school wanting to offer another option to pay for tuition?
  • What type of alternative is it? Will the money be ‘free’ or will it need to be paid back at some point?
  • Are there other stipulations attached? (IE: minimum GPA, front loaded funds that trail in the last two years of attendance, or annual increases to interest)

5. Immediate Costs and Eventual Costs

  • Your Immediate Costs equal: the COA minus (–) any awards.  This will be your annual out of pocket cost.
  • Your Eventual Costs equal: add (+) in loans, grants, or any other aid that needs to be repaid.
  • These prices will offer you a true comparison for the cost of a school. Not just what seems great in the award letter.

6. Know You Can Appeal

  • It is estimated that 4 out of 5 families have been shorted on some of their award packages each year.
  • If you feel the award letter package given to your student is unfair (consider things like their ranking, percentage matching policies, etc.), then appeal!


For Parents of Seniors, The End is in Sight Graduate with Diploma or award letter

This is a very exciting time for your family. For months, you’ve been wondering which schools would accept your child and where they would finally end up. Now you’re getting a good idea of the options and how much it’s going to cost. This is when you will discover if you can truly afford that amazing private school. On the other hand, you may find that your financial aid package doesn’t cut it and you will need to appeal to the school.


Hard Working StudentFor Parents of Juniors, It’s All About to Start

If you’re the parent of a high school junior, you’ve got your work cut out for you. The right steps now could have a dramatic effect on your EFC, lowering the total amount of money you need to pay in the upcoming years.

Why now? Because in financial aid terms, this is the “base year”. Colleges will look at the income that you report at the end of this year to determine the amount that you can pay towards your child’s education. How you allocate your money this year is going to have a huge effect on the money you’ll have in five years’ time. It’s important for you to understand the impact that your income and assets will have on your child’s financial aid future. So, why stall any longer?

Our advisors have been helping families in Atlanta to find a balance between paying for college and preserving retirement accounts. At our company, we believe that a family shouldn’t have to make compromised when it comes to their child’s education. We’d love to discuss a financial plan for your future, too! Click here to schedule a meeting.

See you next week for more information and the strategies to benefit from this information

Some of Our Sources: GA College 411    Forbes      Citizens Bank

About the author 

Stuart Canzeri

Stuart Canzeri is a well-respected professional in the world of college funding and financial planning. He's known as the "College Financial Guy" on the internet, where he's helped countless families save significant money on college costs. With more than 20 years of experience in the field, he's become an expert in investment, tax planning, and overall financial management.

Stuart has a strong educational background, which includes a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tulane University, a Master of Business Administration degree from Mercer University, and a Certified Financial Planner certification from the University of Georgia. These credentials allow him to effectively work with a variety of clients, including business owners and corporate executives.


Award Letter, College Acceptance Letters, College Financial Award Packages, Expected Family Contribution, Plan to Pay, Sticker Price

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