Submitting your FAFSA to find out your eligibility for federal and state aid is definitely a huge step in the financial aid process, but it’s only the first step. After your FAFSA has been processed and you’ve visited with the financial aid office at your school(s) of interest, watch for an Award Letter from one or more of those institutions. The letter may be sent electronically or via the US Postal service. It’s important that you read each Award Letter carefully, for it describes the types and amounts of financial aid the college or career tech can offer to help you pay for one year of higher education.
On your award letter you will see:
- The total Cost of Attendance (COA) – what it costs to go to that school for one year
- Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – a number used by the school to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive (most likely not the amount you’ll be expected to pay)
- Types and amounts of aid the school can offer you; this list is often called a financial aid ‘package’.
- Grants – gift aid that comes from federal, state and tribal governments, usually based on financial need
- Scholarships – can be based on need, merit or your interests; awarded by colleges, state agencies, companies, foundations, tribal and private organizations
- Federal work-study – there may be an opportunity for you to work on or off campus to earn some of your financial aid
- Federal student loans – money that you borrow to help you pay for college; loans must be repaid, with interest
- Federal PLUS loan – an undergraduate loan your parent(s) may qualify to borrow to help you pay for college, subject to credit history requirements; your parent(s) are expected to repay the loan
Now, do a simple calculation. Subtract all of the financial aid shown on your Award Letter from your Cost of Attendance. This will determine your estimated Net Cost. The Net Cost is the out-of-pocket amount you’ll be expected to pay. You may hear this referred to as unmet need, or ‘the gap’. It’s possible that your Net Cost could be zero if your financial aid package covers your whole Cost of Attendance (a negative amount would count as a zero).
What options are available to help you pay the Net Cost?
- College Savings Plan – visit ok4saving.org for more information
- Military benefits – visit military.com/education/gi-bill to learn more
- A monthly payment plan approved by your school
- You don’t have to accept all of the aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. A monthly payment during college may be less expensive than a loan payment with added interest after you’ve completed your education.
- Each award letter will give you a deadline to accept or decline some or all of the aid by a specified date. Always keep track of deadlines.
- If you receive more than one Award Letter, be sure to determine what your Net Cost would be at each school. The schools will most likely have different packages to offer.