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Once you've been admitted to a university, you can expect to receive your financial aid award letter shortly after. Typically, schools only send award letters once they receive your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and in some cases the CSS Profile. If you are competing in scholarship competitions at certain schools, they may also hold the award letter until after the results of the competition.
If you haven’t received your award letter and think you’ve completed all of the necessary steps, there are a few things to check. First, review your FAFSA and see if you put the school codes in for all of the schools you were admitted to. If you did not, you can go ahead and add those codes now. You will also want to double check if the school requires the CSS Profile. Unlike the FAFSA, there is a cost associated with the CSS Profile. You must pay a fee for each school you submit the CSS Profile to. In some cases students may be eligible to receive a fee waiver for the CSS Profile.
Once you receive your award letter(s), read them carefully. Award letters come in a variety of formats. You need to understand what money is free, meaning you don’t have to pay it back, versus loans and employment. Grants and scholarships are free money. You receive them as a result of academic merit, talent and financial need. Make sure you understand the terms of the awards:
If you are an athlete receiving athletic aid from an NCAA Division I, II or III school, there are specific rules that govern your athletic awards. In addition to the award letter you’ll usually sign a National Letter of Intent that governs your athletic award. Read it well.
You may also see loans on your award letter. At a minimum, if you filled out the FAFSA you should see Federal Direct Loans. (Check out an earlier blog post to learn more about student loans and loan eligibility.) You may also see loans from the school or the state. Review the interest rates and the payback terms for the loans. You will have to take steps to confirm you want to take the loans. You will need to do entrance counseling and sign master promissory note(s). Look for instructions on those steps with the award letter or on the schools website.
Some schools also offer employment to help pay for school. Ask questions about how you get a job and how you are paid. Does the money you earn go to your student account or is it paid via a check to you?
Going to college is likely your first big purchase. It’s important to remember that even if your parents are paying the balance after your aid, the student account is in your name. Missing a deadline or requirement to keep a grant/scholarship or loan can create a balance on your account. Failure to pay that balance could end up impacting your credit. If you do not understand something you read, call the financial aid office. The counselors are there to help you through this process.