Students and parents are receiving emails and letters this month from colleges and universities notifying them of the amount of financial aid being offered to help them pay tuition and other costs for the 2011-12 school year. And every family is doing a subtraction problem to determine how much of their need has gone unmet.
Financial Aid Award Letters contain information regarding federal and state grants offered, institutional scholarships awarded, federal work study awards and student loans. Most colleges have a deadline by which students must indicate whether they are accepting an award in full or part or none of the award.
The reasons a student might reject part of an award include a decision not to work while in college and therefore not accept a college work study award. Students might have some personal or parent savings and decide not to borrow a student loan. Parents might decline a PLUS loan because they have another lower interest source of borrowing available to them.
When students reject an entire award it is usually because they have decided to go to college elsewhere. Another reason to decline an award can be that a student has received one or more scholarships that will cover their costs.
Students who have not received an award letter by April should contact the financial aid office at their college(s) to inquire about their status.
Students who have had a change of status in income or other hardship not previously documented at the financial aid office should check to see if any adjustments can or will be made to their eligibility. For example, a student whose parent or spouse has recently died may qualify for a review of their personal circumstances because of the significant decline in income for their household. Such students should contact their college financial aid office as soon as their circumstance is known to determine whether there is additional financial relief available to them.
Students and their parents should carefully review award letters and determine the amount of cost not met by their awards. Since most students apply to multiple colleges and therefore receive multiple award letters, they are in a position to "shop" their offers and choose the one that best meets their needs.