THE STUDENT AID REPORT, AWARD PACKAGES,
AND FUNDS DISBURSEMENT
You've sent in your FAFSA form to the processing center which analyzes your information using a federally approved need analysis system. After determining the federal aid you're eligible to receive, the center sends the results in the form of a Student Aid Report (SAR) to you and to financial aid offices of the university campuses you listed on your FAFSA form.
When it's ready, you will receive a copy of your Student Aid Report for you to check for errors and make corrections. Look it over carefully. If something's not correct, was left out, or has changed since you filed the form, make the corrections as instructed on the SAR. Check that the college you plan to attend is listed under the school list section. If not, you need to add this college as a correction to your SAR. If everything checks out okay on your SAR, you just need to wait patiently for the financial aid office to contact you.
If you receive a request from a college for further information or documentation, respond right away.
THE AWARD PACKAGE
Using your Student Aid Report, the financial aid office personnel will assess your case and then they will create a financial aid package for you. A package is what the financial aid office calls the combined financial aid programs and services you're eligible to receive for that year. It's determined on the basis of your financial need and the available programs and the amount of funds available in those programs.
For example, a student's financial aid package could be a Pell Grant, a Cal Grant, and a Stafford Loan option, while another student's package could be just a Stafford Loan option because that's all s/he qualifies for.
CHECK FOR GRANTS AND SCHOLARSHIPS
This money doesn't have to be repaid, so you want to see a healthy portion of grants and scholarships in a financial aid award.
LOOK FOR THE COST OF ATTENDANCE
What is the school's sticker price? Sometime financial aid awards don't include what is officially called the cost of attendance. The cost of attendance is supposed to include such things as tuition, room/board, travel, textbooks and fees for such things as health services, labs and student life. Ideally, the costs will be itemized on your financial aid letter.
The cost is one of the critical things that you need to know to determine if your award is any good. As strange as this will sounds, some schools don't include the cost of attendance in their letters. Other institutions may low ball the cost by leaving out some expenses.
WATCH OUT FOR THE LOANS
One way that schools make their packages look more attractive is to include loans. The only loans in an aid package should be government loans with more favorable terms that families qualify for due to their lower incomes. The two loans in that category are the subsidized Stafford Loan and the Perkins Loan. Don't be impressed if you see a PLUS Loan for Parents or an unsubsidized Stafford Loan, which are available to all parents of all incomes.
LOOK FOR YOUR EXPECTED CONTRIBUTION
You won't know if your award is a generous one unless the letter includes what the parents and the child are expected to contribute. These contribution figures will be based on the calculations that are generated when a family files for financial aid. There should be a line stating what a school expects the child to contribute (it will be minimal) and what the parent(s) must contribute.
Without knowing what these numbers are, you can't adequately assess the offer. For instance, let's suppose that the combined expected contribution of the parents and child is $20,000 and the school costs $55,000. If the school only provides grants totaling $7,000, the family would face a $28,000 gap between what the family can afford to pay and what the school is offering.
Make sure to carefully examine all financial aid awards. If you don't understand something in the award offer, contact the school.
ACCEPTANCE AND COMPLETION
Now that you have received your Financial Aid Award Notice, you will then accept or decline the awards you have been offered. If you have been offered a Federal Student Loan, you may need to complete additional steps to receive the funds.
The financial aid office will notify you of the disbursement schedule. Disbursement is usually handled by the campus' bursar's office. Your tuition is usually automatically deducted from the check amount. If your award amount includes money meant for housing, books, supplies, etc., the electronic funds transfer or check will be made out for the balance of your total award amount. Budgeting and money management is up to you, but there may be services or workshops offered at the campus that can help those that need it.