What’s the Difference Between an Acceptance Letter and a Financial Aid Letter?

Acceptance Letters

An acceptance letter will come from the school’s Office of Admissions.  This letter is your congratulatory announcement that you have been accepted! You submitted your application, it was reviewed by the admissions office, and the school is offering you a spot in their student body.  Congratulations!!! You did it!

Sometimes these letters may also mention a possible merit scholarship and amount that you’ve been awarded as a result of your admission application.  Not all schools include this in their acceptance letter though, so if you don’t see anything about scholarship money yet, it’s ok!

Financial Aid Letters

A financial aid award letter comes from the school’s Office of Financial Aid and outlines total cost, what the college is offering you, and how much you are required to pay for the upcoming year.

First you should see the COA or Cost of Attendance.  Ideally the school will break this down into direct costs (items that will appear on your bill and you will pay directly to the school) and indirect costs (items that will not appear on your bill but are estimated costs associated with going to college and should be included in your budget.)  Here is a breakdown of direct and indirect college costs that make up the Cost of Attendance.

Direct Costs

  • Tuition and Fees
  • Room and Board

Indirect Costs

  • Books and Supplies
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • Personal Expenses
  • Entertainment

Next you should see what the college is offering you in the form or merit aid or need-based aid.  These will be laid out for the year and usually broken down by semester or quarter, based on the school.  There will be a separate line for each merit scholarship or need-based grant you have been awarded.

You may also see direct student loans in your financial aid letter.  These are loans that belong to the student and are offered as a payment option if you have submitted your FAFSA.

If you are eligible, you may also see work study, parent loans, or loans offered directly by the school.

When Will I Get These Letters?

You will receive your acceptance letter first.  Depending on HOW you applied for admission – early decision, early admission, or regular decision, may dictate WHEN you get your financial aid letter.  These two letters won’t come together.  Sometimes your financial aid letter can show up as early as a few weeks after your acceptance letter, or as late as a few months.

If you have questions and haven’t heard anything from the school, go ahead and reach out to the financial aid office.  They will be able to give you specific information relating to your case.

How Will I Get These Letters?

This is another question that is specific to each school. Most colleges and universities still send out acceptance letters in the mail.  They may also send you an email and an invitation or link to a student portal.

If you receive access to a student portal remember to check it regularly!  Schools tend to use these portals to share and deliver important and timely information to accepted students.

Your financial aid letter may also be mailed to you, but more than likely you will find it in your student portal as well.  If your financial aid letter is uploaded to your portal, you can download it, save it, print it out, and even upload it to your MyCAP profile to assist with comparing and evaluating your financial aid offers!

Now What?

You’ve gotten your all your acceptance letters and all you’ve gotten all the corresponding financial aid letters. Now it’s time to compare apples to apples.  You can lay out all your financial aid letters, upload them to your MyCAP account or just pull them all up on your computer.  Do what works best for you.

You want to really understand what each school is offering; how much you are getting in merit aid, how much you are getting in need-based aid, how much is offered in loans and do you want to take them, and how much are you still responsible for?

Once you’ve got a handle on the different offers it’s time to compare and contrast.  Who is giving you the best deal?  Is the out of pocket costs something you can afford?  Are loans worth it?

Finally, it’s time to see if you are a good candidate for an appeal.  Your financial situation may look different than it did when you submitted your forms back in the fall.  You may have received more merit at a similar school and may be able to appeal based on that. Or maybe you’ve had a family situation that changes things.

Using the MyCAP evaluate and appeal tool may provide a bit more insight on possible appeal potential as well.

Remember, analyzing your financial aid letters is an important step in this process!  You’re almost at the finish line, so don’t slow down now.  Gather and compare the facts and figures to make a solid decision on the best college fit. And congrats!  College is just a few months away!!