Understanding financial aid award letter

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

As you’ve seen in recent months’ columns that we’ve been working our way down the home stretch between your selection of a college and that joyful day in August when you arrive at your institution of choice.

The Financial Aid Award Letter represents an extremely important milestone in this process. Normally arriving in the spring, the letter should be thorough, formatted into amounts, include calculations and feature a glossary of critical terminology.

Please understand that you should request this information if it’s not provided within the Award Letter. In fact, the U.S. Dept. of Education, earlier this month, formally recommended that colleges display enhanced transparency by clarifying their financial aid offers. Thus, I am recommending the following as a best-in-practice letter.

Identify the cost of attendance, which is the total of all direct and indirect costs before any scholarships, grants, loans or any other educational expenses are factored in.

Gift aid comes in the form of scholarships, grants and awards made possible through federal, state, institutional and donor funding. These awards do not require repayment.

Student loans are awarded to students completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You will always be awarded the maximum allowable, but remember you can chose to borrow a lesser amount. Please make your wishes clear to the Financial Aid staff.

Part of your federal aid might include Federal Work-Study, a program that allows many students to work on campus and be paid primarily from federal coffers rather than from purely institutional funds. If you accept the Federal Work-Study offered, you are responsible for securing a job, although many schools, like Wilmington College, will actively assist you in your campus job search. Federal Work-Study funds are paid directly to students for the work they complete and, in turn, do not reduce the balance due the institution or affect the eventual loan repayment.

The billing estimate shows direct tuition, fees, room and board charges, as well as financial aid (excluding Work–Study) as the estimated balance due. The balance due is your out-of-pocket cost not covered by financial aid.

Here’s an important reminder. A student’s financial aid is based on the housing status indicated. If you do not agree with the status indicated — on-campus resident, commuter from home, commuter not from parents’ home — contact the school’s Financial Aid Office/One Stop Center. Your aid award letter may need to be revised.

I want to give special recognition to Tammi Carpenter, Wilmington College’s associate director of enrollment success, for her contributions towards this column.

Dennis M. Kelly is Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management at Wilmington College.

The May column will feature reviewing the final bill.


Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist