Comparing Your Award Letters – Summer Hub

SummerHub's getting a new name! Check back next month for the big reveal.


Comparing Your Award Letters

Learn how to view and compare your financial aid award letters.

You’ve researched Financial Aid, finished your application (FAFSA, or State-based Financial Aid Application), and have been accepted to a college you are considering. CONGRATS!! Now suddenly, letters and emails begin to arrive from the schools that accepted you containing “financial aid award offers.” It’s a lot of numbers, dollar signs, and words you may not be familiar with. The schools are asking you to make a decision. So, how will you decide? You can get started by comparing your offers.

Let’s explain how this works:

When you completed your financial aid application, you were given the option to list schools to send your application to. When you get accepted to these schools they will each send you a financial aid award letter. Read your offer letter(s) carefully. Your financial aid award letter notifies you of the amounts and types of aid the government and the college(s) are offering you. They will also likely inform you of tuition costs.

Find Your Financial Aid Award Letters

Colleges will send you an award letter through traditional mail, email you with a notification to view your award online, or both!

  • Mail: Check your mailbox regularly. If you receive a financial aid award letter through the mail, pay attention to how the college wants you to notify them of your acceptance. They may direct you to go online, or they may include an envelope to send a signed form back.
  • Online: You will either receive an email with your award letter, or you will be directed to log into your student portal and go to your financial aid page to locate your award package.

We recommend checking the financial aid section of your student portal regularly throughout the semester. This will help you stay up-to-date on new scholarship opportunities, announcements and upcoming deadlines.

Make a Decision on Financial Aid

Reviewing your financial aid offers can be confusing. But you’re smart, capable, and you can get help. This is going to involve a little math, consider using a comparison tool to make it a little easier. Just input the costs of your school and your financial aid offer to calculate the cost to you after financial aid is applied. For a step-by-step process see our guidance below.

Determine Total Cost for Each School

Add together the tuition and fees to determine the school’s total cost. Don’t forget that there will be additional expenses (textbooks, supplies, etc.) once you start college.

Subtract each type of financial aid award from the total cost of the school’s tuition starting with the best type: gift aid aka FREE money (grants and scholarships). If the school is affordable after applying gift aid alone, it’s a great financial fit for you. 

TIP! If the school isn’t affordable after applying your gift aid, check how much the school costs after applying borrowed aid, or student loans. Remember you can take out all or just a portion of the loans that you’re offered. If the school still feels unaffordable after applying student loans, it might not be a good financial fit. But…before ruling this school out, consider appealing your award letter.


Compare College Costs

Estimate the total amount of costs that might not be visible via your award letter, such as cost of travel to and from campus.

Compare the cost of each school after financial aid is applied, rather than comparing the amount of aid you’re offered from each school. You might be surprised by which school is most affordable for you.

Rank the schools based on affordability. Attending a school that is a good financial fit has proven to be one of the most important factors for student reaching their educational goals. But it’s not the only factor, check out these additional important considerations

Get Support

Financial aid is such an important consideration when selecting which school you’ll attend, yet it’s often challenging to understand. That’s why every school has a financial aid office with experts on this stuff. If you’re feeling lost, list your questions, then call or email the financial aid office at each college you’re considering and ask your questions. Remember! There are no dumb questions. But if you’re not sure what to ask, here are some example questions: 

  • Can you explain my financial aid award letter to me? 
  • Will I get this amount of financial aid every year? 
  • What is the difference between a subsidized and an unsubsidized loan?
  • How much will I have to pay in my first year if I do accept the student loans? 
  • I haven’t heard of ______ before. Can you explain what that is? 

Getting a handle on financial aid can be frustrating at times, but remember, everyone in this process wants to see you succeed! So keep asking until you understand, and involve an adult you trust for extra support.

Accept Your Package

Now that you know how to compare your financial aid awards, you are ready to make a decision and accept one of the packages. View our Accepting your Financial Aid Package resource page to learn how to do this.

Looking for more help? 

You can find more information about FAFSA, student loans, and budgeting your money on our Financials page. Also consider listening to this 4 minute NPR clip about other students who are trying to compare college costs.

Can’t or don’t want to listen? No problem! Click here to read the article.

Recommended Resources


Financial Aid

"Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today"

Malcolm X, human rights activist