Guide to Translating Financial Aid Award Letters for High School Seniors


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Mary Lindsaye Boyd 
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NC nonprofit lender launches statewide campaign to help students understand financial aid award letters and identify the best offer for their education.

RALEIGH, N.C. – (April 3, 2023) – Spring is when financial aid award letters begin flooding the mailboxes of college-bound high school seniors across North Carolina. Interpreting award letters can be confusing as students compare offers from various schools. To help students and parents make the best choice for their families, NC Assist Loan, an alternative college loan offered by College Foundation, Inc., is providing a Guide to Translating Financial Aid Award Letters.

Colleges and universities send financial aid award letters to students to announce how much money in grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study the student is offered for one year of school. Colleges use information from the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to calculate how much aid to offer each student. The FAFSA is always the first step in the financial aid process and should be completed for each year the student plans to be in school.

There is no standardized format or requirements for financial aid award letters. Each school determines what information to provide and may use different terminology, which often leads to uncertainty for families as they work to understand their out-of-pocket costs after aid.

“For the majority of families, cost will be a significant factor when choosing a college,” said Laura Morgan, Vice President of Communications, Savings, and Legal Affairs at College Foundation, Inc. (CFI). “As financial aid award letters arrive in the mail, we want North Carolina parents and students to have the tools they need to make the best decisions for their families when it comes to paying for college.”

To help families with the confusing task of comparing financial aid offers from various schools, NC Assist Loan developed the Guide to Translating Financial Aid Award Letters with the important terms to look for and understand in award letters:

  • Grants and Scholarships – Gift aid that does not need to be repaid.
  • Work-Study – Part-time jobs for college students with financial need. 
  • Student Loans – Financial aid that needs to be repaid with interest. Loans can come from the federal government, banks, private lenders, nonprofit organizations, and other financial institutions. It’s important to remember that families are not required to accept loans that are packaged in their award letter.  They can compare terms and choose their own lenders. 
  • Cost of Attendance (COA) – Includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses to attend a specific school.  
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – EFC is determined after the student completes the FAFSA and is the amount of money the family can afford to pay for college each year. 
  • Demonstrated Need – After EFC is deducted, this is the amount of financial aid the student will need to pay for college.
  • Net price – COA minus any grants, scholarships, and work-study funds. This is the actual cost the student and family will pay for one year of college. 
  • Unmet Need – The amount left to be paid by the family after the student’s financial aid. 
    Choosing between financial aid packages is a crucial part of choosing a college. Understanding how to evaluate the net price of a school and how to cover any unmet financial need are important factors that may influence a student’s decision and their future. 

After evaluating their award letters and choosing a school, students may need extra funds to bridge the gap between cost of attendance and other financial aid. NC Assist Loan has competitive rates and zero fees compared to federal direct Parent PLUS Loans. CFI is a state-based nonprofit organization committed to helping North Carolina students and families succeed in their academic pursuits.


About College Foundation, Inc.
College Foundation, Inc. (CFI), a nonprofit corporation serving North Carolina students and families since 1955, administers a large portfolio of education loans, several major grant and scholarship programs for students attending N.C. colleges and universities, and the tax-advantaged 529 college savings program on behalf of the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority. CFI also delivers information to North Carolina students and families about paying for college, assists colleges and universities with state residency determination and financial aid services, and provides technology support and outreach for

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