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Financial Aid Awards

From WSAC:  

Key Components to Understanding Your Award Letter

Every college’s award letter is a little different. After you submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid m(FAFSA) or Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA), you will receive a financial aid award letter from each school at which you were accepted. Each letter will summarize the cost of full-time enrollment for
one year plus your financial aid package. Use one worksheet per school (download below) to compare your costs, available aid and resources for paying for college.
Use Chapter 4: Paying for College of Washington State’s College Knowledge project for detailed information on types of financial aid   There are other great
chapters that can be found online: Check them out, too!

Things to consider when comparing award letters:

Determining your total real costs.

  • Indirect costs are not billed from the college. When thinking about what costs you need to have covered include the direct costs and the indirect costs you need.
  • Questions to consider:
    • Will you be commuting or traveling to and from campus a lot? How much do you anticipate needing for the academic year?
    • Can you buy used books or supplies? Borrow them from the library? Does your degree program require many text books or supplies? Ask the admissions office for more information if you need to!
    • What types of personal expenses do you anticipate having during the year?

Is your aid renewable (meaning it can be used for more than one year)?

  • Some scholarships require you to maintain a certain GPA to make them renewable.
  • Some grants require that you meet income requirements each year.
  • Check with the financial aid office if a specific scholarship, grant, etc. does not say if it is
  • renewable.

Are you a College Bound Scholarship student?

  • The College Bound Scholarship is an early commitment of state financial aid for eligible students that covers three specific costs: tuition at public college rates, some fees, and a small book allowance. The specific amount labeled “College Bound” will differ at each institution and for each student but the costs listed above will be covered by state financial aid programs, such as WA College Grant.
  • You must meet income eligibility requirements when applying for financial aid. This will be determined by the financial aid office when you apply with the FAFSA or WASFA. You will also need to meet the College Bound pledge. More information can be found at

Need help understanding your award letter?
Contact the financial aid or admissions office at the college with any questions!

Use Understand Your Award Letter Worksheet to help you figure out your direct & indirect costs to figure out what you will need to pay for for each college. Choose which one according to your circumstances:  


Use to figure out YOUR cost for each college

First page of the PDF file: award_letter_worksheet_-_on_campus-fillable_pdf_1

About Financial Aid Awards

As you receive award letters, compare them very carefully. There is no standardization, so formats and wording vary. Be absolutely certain that you know what each category on the award letter is. 

Start here

By using either of these tools: 

or by watching this presentation: 

Understanding Award Letters College Success Foundation

Read and Use these Guides

Paying for College InfographicPDF Download helps prioritize how you accept / decline the components of your financial aid award. 

Everything you need to know about paying for college before decision day Washington Post 4.7.2016 This is an excellent guide for many paying for college matters, with sections on:

  • How to negotiate a better financial aid package
  • What to do if you haven't saved much for college
  • A way to pay that doesn't involve borrowing money (monthly payments)
  • What you need to know about private student loans
  • Should you take out an insurance policy to cover college tuition?

How to Read a Financial Aid Award Letter Washington Post 4.7.2016. An interactive article examining three sample letters. 

How to Decipher a Financial Aid Letter The College Solution 1.31.2016

Advice for Appealing Your Financial Aid Award College Aid Pro  3.2023

Ten Tips to Negotiate Your Best Financial Aid Package The Kracken 4.3.2017. Take or leave the advice on negotiation, but do the recommended very detailed steps to thoroughly understand the aid process and your offer. 

Also use the college’s own website for wording and, if you are serious about the school, call the financial aid office to ask questions. 

Resources:  Downloads

Compare College Costs & Awards Use this customized-to-Washington spreadsheet to enter figures from your colleges and see the costs side by side. 

Questions to Ask the Financial Aid Office about your AwardPDF Download by Big Future. Have this handout handy when you speak with or meet with financial aid officials. 

Federal Student Loan ProgramsPDF Download explains the many types of loans.

Student Loan Survival GuidePDF Download from the State Attorney General's Office. Excellent guide to loans and financial aid. 

Programas de préstamos federales para estudiantesPDF Download 

WSJ Guide to Student Loans 2022PDF Download, an excellent up-to-date resource. 

Deciphering Your Financial Aid LetterPDF Download by Money Magazine. An annotated guide.   

Resources for Appealing Your Award

Financial Aid Appeals basics from the Washington Student Achievement Council

How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter College Essay Guy

Everything You Need to Know About Financial Aid Appeals Road2College

Help for Writing An Appeal Letter FormSwift

11 Ways to Appeal for More Financial Aid or Merit Aid The College Solution


Resources:  Websites

ReadySetGrad Financial Aid 101 (works best on Chrome). 

Washington State Financial Aid Programs lists the various grants, scholarships, and programs that are unique to Washington State. Not sure what a State Need Grant is? An Opportunity Grant? Look it up here. 

Federal Student Aid Glossary provides definitions of many terms. Want to know the difference between an unsubsidized loan and a subsidized one? Look here. Washington State-specific programs are not included. 

Sallie Mae's Compare Financial Aid Award Letters. An excellent site with clear explanations of financial aid components.  

Compare College Offers, a tool on, where you can upload your offers (personal info redacted), compare them with others' offers, and gain more information as you make decisions and work with financial aid offices. 

Federal Student Aid Student Loan Repayment Estimator. Allows you to plug in total amount, type of loan, interest rate, and projected income to estimate what repayment might look like. 

The College Board's Big Future Student Loan Calculator allows you to put in several types of loans and estimated income to help you figure out the long term financial commitment.

Resources:  Videos

Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter by Education Unlocked. It's not stellar quality, but this explanation of an award letter is clear and the advice is sound. 

Types of Aid is a set of three videos by Federal Student Aid:  Overview of the Financial Aid ProcessTypes of Federal Student AidResponsible Borrowing.  

The Sallie Mae Compare Financial Aid Award Letters page has a very good short (less than 2 minutes) video, 4 Tips on How to Read Award Letters