Comparing School Aid Offers | Federal Student Aid

A school aid offer (or award letter) tells you what financial aid you can receive at a particular college or career school.

If you’ve applied to several schools, be sure to compare aid offers to see which school will be the most affordable.

Comparing School Aid Offers

If you listed a school on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and have been offered admission by that school, the financial aid office at the school will send you an aid offer (often electronically). The offer includes the types and amounts of financial aid you may receive from federal, state, private, and school sources. This combination of aid is your financial aid package.

Because your financial aid package is created for you and is based on the cost of attending a particular school, your aid amounts will vary from school to school.

Figuring Out Net Price

Follow these easy steps to figure out your net price, or net cost, for each school, and find out which school will be most affordable for you.

  • First, find the cost of attendance for your program on the aid offer. If the school doesn’t list the cost of attendance on the aid offer, ask the financial aid office for this figure. Make sure it includes amounts you will pay to the school directly (such as tuition and fees) as well as other costs (such as living expenses, books and supplies, and transportation).
  • Next, subtract the grant and scholarship amounts on your aid offer from the cost of attendance amount. Also subtract any savings you have available to put toward your school costs for the school year. The remaining amount is your net or out-of-pocket cost.
  • Compare the net costs for the schools you are considering. The net cost is the amount you will have to pay out of your pocket, using earnings from work or loan funds that you borrow.

Also, because your aid offer might include student loans, it’s important for you to compare the amount of debt you would be taking on at the schools you are considering. 

If you find that you’ll need to take out a larger amount in private loans at one school than at another, you should pay special attention to the terms and conditions of the private loans so you understand what your obligations would be. Read about federal versus private loans.

If you have any questions or don’t understand what’s in your aid offer, contact the school. For instance, it’s important to know which items in the offer are grants and which are loans. You also need to think about which aid to accept.