Green box with a bow that had a bag of money inside it.
Green box with a bow that had a bag of money inside it.
Submitted your FAFSA? Your colleges should receive your information soon. Colleges will start receiving information from the FAFSA in late January. At that time, you will be able to make any changes you need to make and add more schools to your list.

Once colleges have your FAFSA and financial information, they will have the information they need to start preparing a financial aid award letter if you get accepted. Watch your email for additional information requests from the colleges you are applying to.

Need to add more schools?
Is your college list growing? After you receive your FAFSA Submission Summary, you can log back into your application and add more schools. You can list up to 20 schools. If you need more, swap out schools that already have your FAFSA information. (Just make sure they do indeed have it.)

My FAFSA is done. What’s next?
Watch for your college acceptance letters and your financial aid offer! It will tell you how much help you can expect from the government and the college’s own scholarship funds.

What kind of financial help can I expect?
Each college will be different. There will be a mix that may consist of grants and scholarships (free money), loans (which you must pay back), and work-study (money you can earn). This is called a financial aid package. It is important to look at each package carefully so you select a college you can truly afford. 


Why am I being asked to prove that my FAFSA information is accurate?

What does verification involve?

What questions may be asked?
Can I send the same information to all of the colleges?
If I get a verification form, that means the college has accepted me, right?

Next Step: Work with the colleges to get the financial aid you need.

Go online and check your FAFSA Submission Summary to make sure there are no last-minute complications. If you see an asterisk (*) or “C” on the summary, the colleges will need to verify your information. This is a routine check. Watch your email for instructions. Each college will need paperwork from you.

✓ Has your family income gone down over the last two years? Are there other issues, such as a recent job loss, a divorce, or big medical bills, that aren’t reflected on your FAFSA? Call the financial aid officers at the colleges you’re most interested in. Let them know how your family’s finances have changed.

All About Your Award Letter

It’s the day you’ve been waiting for. Your first college acceptance letter has arrived! Your financial aid award letter explains how much this college will cost and lists ways to pay for it. Read this document carefully and compare it to other offers you receive. The following pages will tell you how.

Learn how to read and compare these letters below. Here are new terms you may see:

Cost of Attendance (COA)
Your COA is the total cost of attending college. This will include direct costs paid to the college (like tuition and fees) and indirect costs (like books and transportation).

Student Aid Index (SAI)
Your SAI is a measure of your family’s ability to pay for college, based on your FAFSA form. States, colleges, and private donors may also use this number to award financial aid.

Scholarships & Grants
This is free money for college awarded by the federal government, state government, colleges, and/or private organizations. One important example is the federal Pell Grant for lower-income students.

Federal Work-Study (FWS)
This is federal money you can earn by taking a part-time job on campus. To get this money, you’ll need to find a FWS job. The money you earn is yours to use in any way you like.

Federal Direct Government Loans
These loans come in two forms: subsidized and unsubsidized. The subsidized loans are for students in need and have easier repayment terms.

Parent PLUS Loans
There are federal loans that parents can apply for to cover your education expenses. They are more expensive than your student loans.

Private Loans
These are offered by private lenders. These loans have higher fees and interest rates than federal student loans, and repayment terms may not be as flexible.

First, Check the Price Tag

It’s time to get real. You need to figure out what college will cost. This will be different for each school. To get started, take a close look at your financial aid letter. Look for a section called Cost of Attendance. Colleges must give you this estimate, but some colleges do a much better job of this than others.

Direct Costs
(Your college costs)

These are the costs that the colleges bill you for directly. There are only a few, but they are the big-ticket items:

Tuition and Fees

Room and Board, if you are living in a dormitory.

Comparing College Costs Correctly

Many colleges list grants, loans and other support per semester, but college costs and your expected contribution are for the entire year. Be sure to compare costs and aid for the same time period. And do your best to remember everything. Need some help? Our friends at uAspire have a College Cost Calculator that we love.

Indirect Costs
(Your personal costs)

These are the expenses you pay out of pocket. The good news is you can control them by being careful. The bad news is that these costs can add up.

Books and supplies

Off-campus housing

Food, snacks and lots of coffee

Transportation, either daily or for home visits

Entertainment and fun
Clothes and toiletries

Next, Look for The Free Money

Some forms of financial aid are better than others. Start by looking for money you don’t need to pay back, like grants and scholarships. Only then should you consider more costly options, like loans. Below is a list of the most common forms of “free” money along with Federal Work-Study opportunities.

Federal Grants
The two most common are the Pell Grant and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or SEOG. Both are based on financial need.

State Grants
Many states offer help to students who stay in their home state for college. New York, for example, has the popular Tuition Assistance Program or TAP. Ideally, you should apply for state grants when you are filling out your FAFSA. Some state programs can be competitive and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. But you can often apply later if you need to.

College Grants and Private Scholarships
Colleges offer a variety of scholarships and institutional aid. Need-based scholarships make college easier to afford. Colleges offer merit aid to recruit all kinds of students: academic leaders, artists, athletes, community activists, and more. There are also many different kinds of scholarships available from private organizations and businesses. You have to look for these opportunities and apply.

Federal Work-Study
Federal Work-Study offers you the opportunity to work on campus. As with any job, you’re paid for the number of hours you work. You can use the money any way you want. Your financial aid letter will tell you how much money you can earn under this program, but it’s up to you to find a job and work the hours needed to get this money.

Finally, Think About Loans

College costs have been rising steadily, so many students need to take out at least a small loan to get by. Nobody likes debt. But you’ll probably make more money with a college degree than without one, so student loans can be an investment in your future.

Good rules to keep in mind: If you or your parents need to borrow, borrow as little as possible. Be sure to use government-backed loans first. They’re cheaper to pay back and more forgiving if you need extra time.

Best: Federal Direct
Subsidized Loans

Subsidized loans are given to college students based on need. The interest costs can be lower than other government loans and you have more time before you need to start paying them back.

Good: Federal Direct
Unsubsidized Loans

Unsubsidized loans are available to anyone, but your total repayment costs are higher than with the subsidized loan unless you begin paying it back while you’re in school.
Eeek: Parent PLUS Loans

These are government-backed loans that parents can use to help you pay for college. But your parents need to have a good credit rating and interest rates can be high. In theory, parents can borrow as much as you need. But just like you, they should be careful about taking on too much debt.

Avoid: Private Loans
You can borrow money from banks or other financial institutions, but shop carefully. Fees and interest rates can be high, and you usually need to start paying back the loan while you’re still in school.


Student loans must be repaid. The federal government has been forgiving some student debt recently, but this is unusual. It’s also rare to get help through bankruptcy. One piece of good news? It’s relatively easy to reduce or delay payments if you have a government-backed student loan.


What do I need to know about student loans and paying them back?

How much money can I borrow in federal student loans?

How much is OK to borrow?

Comparing College Offers

You have your acceptance letters and financial aid offers. Now you need to compare your offers and figure out what each school will cost. Money matters. You should choose a school you can afford.

What follows is a lesson on comparing two financial aid packages. It will give you a sense of what to look for. But remember, every package will look different. Sometimes they are confusing or incomplete. Call a college financial aid officer or talk to an adult you trust if you need help.

We’ll compare two fictitious schools: BigBucks University and LowerCost College. Let’s assume colleges will want your family to contribute $2,000. (This will vary.) Now we need to look at the costs and the various types of aid to see which school is the better deal.


Cost of Attending (1st Year) $62,000

Grants & Scholarships

BigBucks University Scholarship


Pell Grant


State Grant


Net Price


Loans and Work-Study

Federal Direct Subsidized Loan


Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan


Federal Work-Study


Final Calculation

Total Cost of Attending


Total Financial Aid Offered


Expected Family Contribution


The gap you need to fill this year $7,000
(Total loan debt over four years = $22,000)


Cost of Attending (1st Year) $22,000

Grants & Scholarships

LowerCost College Scholarship


Pell Grant


State Grant


Net Price


Loans and Work-Study

Federal Direct Subsidized Loan


Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan


Federal Work-Study


Final Calculation

Total Cost of Attending


Total Financial Aid Offered


Expected Family Contribution


The gap you need to fill this year $1,000
(Total loan debt over four years = $22,000)

BigBucks has a higher Cost of Attendance, while LowerCost is less. Important: Do your own budget to get a true sense of your costs. Colleges often do a poor job of estimating personal living expenses in their figures.

Both schools offer a lot of Scholarship and Grant Support. Colleges look at both financial need and your academics to determine how much to offer — and you did well! But call and ask for details. Is the free money guaranteed for only the first year, or longer? Does the school require that you get good grades? Know the rules.

Next, look at the Net Price, the cost of college that remains after these grants. This is the amount you will need to raise — through loans, work-study or other means.

Now look at the Loans. Remember, some loans are cheaper and easier to manage than others. You want the lowest-cost loans possible. The amount you can get through Federal Direct Loans will be the same, but schools can use their judgment for government-backed loans. (Also, consider total loan debt. Add up the loans offered and multiply by the years it will take to get a degree. At both colleges above, this is $5,500 in loans X 4 years = $22,000.) And look at the Federal Work-Study money offered. This is money you can earn for personal expenses with a campus job. But you need to find the job and work the hours.

Finally, look at the bottom line. What is the gap you will need to fill for the first year? You will need to find this money somewhere: college savings, loans from your family—or another job (eek!) on top of your work-study hours.

Be sure to add up the total amount you might need to borrow to get your degree. In this case, BigBucks University requires more loans…and has a larger gap to fill. If these costs are too much for you—and you really want to go to this school—call the college office. You may be able to appeal your package and get more aid. College costs are very important to consider in choosing a school. But also make sure it is a high-quality school that you will enjoy. Weigh all the factors before saying “yes” to any college.

How To Ask for More Aid

Got your financial aid package but the cost of college still seems way too high? You may be able to convince a college to offer you more help. Remember, they’ve accepted you and they want you to come.

Good Reasons to Ask for More Financial Aid
It never hurts to ask for more aid. But some reasons are more persuasive than others. Your best bet: Show them that the information on FAFSA is incomplete or out of date. Be prepared to offer documents to support your case. Remember, the FAFSA relies on two-year-old tax information. And a lot can change in two years.

Follow up with documentation:
A financial aid officer will let you know what kind of proof they’ll need and how you should submit it. Colleges will probably want to see something in writing, either by email or regular mail.

For Example:

  1. You or a family member have had very high medical expenses.
  2. One or both of your parents lost a job and your family’s income has gone down a lot.
  3. A family member had to take unpaid time off to care for a family member.
  4. The income you reported on the FAFSA was abnormally high. Perhaps a parent had a one-time bump in their income in the tax year reported on the FAFSA because they had to withdraw money from their retirement account.

Here’s What To Do

  1. Make your case in writing and add documentation that will prove it.
  2. Depending on your circumstances, these documents may include medical bills, unemployment checks, recent payslips, or W-2 forms showing a lower salary than what was reported on the FAFSA. Prove everything with documents.
  3. If some of the information you’re sharing is sensitive (such as a detailed diagnosis on a medical bill) you can cover up that part with a black marker.


When do I need to make my decision?
How do I accept a college offer?
What if I’m waitlisted?
What if I missed the acceptance deadline?
What is a college enrollment deposit?

Enrollment To-Do List

How do you actually pay for school? Use this to-do list to guide you.

To Do



To Do / Task / Status

Enrollment Deposits

To get things started, you’ll need to pay an enrollment deposit. If you’re seeking on-campus housing, there will be a deposit for that as well.

Not Started

Financial Aid Award

Look over your award in the portal. Is anything missing from the financial aid award letter?

In Progress

More Info

Does the financial aid office need any more information? Do you need to verify anything on your FAFSA? Watch for last-minute information requests.


Financial Responsibility Statement

Read the college’s description of your costs and payment options carefully. By signing the statement, you acknowledge that you are responsible for payments, even if you drop out.



Look at your college costs for the year including tuition, housing, books, equipment, and living expenses. What will all of this cost?

Not Started

Consider Options

Can you pay for this year with savings, grants, and scholarships? Will you need to take out loans? Get a job? Is a tuition payment plan possible, so you can spread out the payments?


Ask Questions

How do student loans work exactly? What kind of grades do you need to get to keep your grants and scholarships?

In Progress

Accept Financial Aid

Contact the financial aid office and let them know what parts of your aid package you will accept. Grants, scholarships, and work-study, sure! Loans? Maybe? You need to decide.


Consider Loans

How much will you have to pay back over the life of the loans? When do you need to start paying them back? Get the required loan counseling. Sign a Master Promissory Note.

In Progress

Pay for College

Work with financial aid and the bursar’s office to make sure that your first college bill is paid.

Not Started

You’ve Arrived!

Congratulations! You made it to college. Even better, you’ve figured out a way to pay for it. A hard part of your financial aid journey is behind you. But it’s not over. You need to submit a FAFSA each year to keep the aid coming. The good news is that it will be a lot easier than the first time.

You need to fill out the FAFSA every year.

Starting school in the fall of 2024? You’ll need to think about your aid for the following school year soon after you arrive! The FAFSA should be open in October next year. Try to get the form done as soon as possible. Each college has its own deadlines for FAFSA renewal. As always, get direction from your financial aid office.

The FAFSA will be fast. Most original information will be saved. 

You’ll just need to consent to sharing your taxes and provide any other updates needed. Remember you and your parents need to fill out your own sections of the form.

Your grades matter. 

The federal government and your college will require that you make satisfactory academic progress to keep your grants and loans. Each college has its own rules, but you usually need a grade point average of 2.0 (or a C) to keep your grants and loans coming.

Watch your credits. 

Your financial aid may change if you drop classes. If your financial aid award was based on your taking classes full time, dropping a class could make you a part-time student — and eligible for less aid. For many reasons, it’s important to get through college as quickly as you can. If you drop a class, be sure to add another one.