Financial Aid Offers: Here’s What College-Going Families Need to Know

Sallie Mae Helps Students and Families Evaluate Offers to Make an Informed Decision About Paying for College

NEWARK, Del.--()--This spring, students and families will start receiving financial aid offers from colleges and universities. These offers, also referred to as financial aid “award letters,” are sent by each school’s financial aid offices to current and prospective students who filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Most importantly, the offers illustrate the amount of financial aid that the student will be eligible to receive in the upcoming academic year.

Financial aid offers come in all shapes and sizes, with different formats and terminology, and students might be left questioning which offer is best for them. In fact, Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College 2020” shows that only 25% of families who received a financial aid offer found all its components easy to understand.

To help students and families evaluate their options, Sallie Mae® is providing tips and resources for reviewing and comparing financial aid offers:

  • Get organized. To help choose the best offer, create a spreadsheet so you can compare and keep track of a school’s cost of attendance (COA), the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and the details of the financial aid offer, including any scholarships, grants, work-study, or federal student loans.
  • Understand the lingo. You may notice that schools use different terms for the same thing. For example, you might see federal loans listed as a “federal direct unsubsidized loan,” “federal loan,” a “direct loan,” “direct unsub,” or even just “L.” Take the time to understand exactly what is being offered, and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the school’s financial aid office.
  • Negotiate your offer. If your family’s financial situation has changed, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, pick up the phone and call your school’s financial aid office. They may be able to consider a reevaluation of your financial aid offer. Last year, of those who received financial aid offers, 24% appealed for more aid, and 67% were granted more scholarships, grants, work-study, or other forms of aid.
  • Accept only what you need. You are not required to accept everything that’s included within your financial aid offer. After you’ve established your plan to pay for college, only accept the types and amounts of aid you need, and make sure to respond to your school before the deadline.
  • Read the fine print. Even after you’ve accepted your financial aid offer, it’s important to pay attention to the fine print. Note which parts of the award are renewable and which are for just one year, and be mindful of grade point average requirements. Additionally, make sure you complete and submit any required documents promptly. Missing a deadline could negatively affect aid eligibility.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made financial aid offers more important for families, and while the process of receiving them hasn’t changed, students’ approach to comparing them just might,” said Jen O’Donald, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “Since college is often the first big investment a student makes, they should be empowered to shop around — comparing their offers from different schools to determine which provides the best deal.”

For more tips on understanding and evaluating financial aid offers, visit

Sallie Mae (Nasdaq: SLM) believes education and life-long learning, in all forms, help people achieve great things. As the leader in private student lending, we provide financing and know-how to support access to college and offer products and resources to help customers make new goals and experiences, beyond college, happen. Learn more at Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

Category: Student Loans


Connor Peoples

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Connor Peoples