Ways To Support Students and Families Through Financial Aid Awareness Month

February 5, 2024
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The cost of attending colleges and universities has increased exponentially during recent decades. According to a report from the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the United States is $36,436 per year. Most families do not have the economic means to afford four years of college with their own income and savings. This is especially true for families with multiple children who hope to attend a college or university. Because of this, most students rely on some form of financial aid to pay for higher education and postsecondary training. Statistics back this up: 84% of all college students receive financial aid in some form, with full-time undergraduate students receiving an average of $14,800 in financial aid. 

Despite being a standard part of postsecondary planning for most students, the financial aid process can feel overwhelmingly complicated, confusing, and stressful. Many students and families have not been through a similar process before this point and the stakes are incredibly high as the outcome is critically tied to a student’s long-term trajectory. This uncertainty is magnified this year as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone major changes and been rolled out on a modified timeline, with many students and families having significantly less time to analyze and process different options and packages from schools. 

The month of February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. Counselors can use this month to share information with families about how to access financial aid, answer questions about navigating this process, and normalize the idea that most students and families require some assistance to afford higher education. 

Tips & Resources to Support Families Through Financial Aid Awareness Month

Many students and families do not have deep financial backgrounds to equip them to understand nuanced differences in financial aid offerings and packages. A key piece of this process is being able to distinguish what different elements of financial aid will mean for students and families in the short- and long-term. Counselors can use the tips and resources below to demystify financial aid for families and help ensure that students make thoughtful and strategic choices that appropriately balance academics with financial considerations. 

Coach families to compare different letters and pay close attention to details

Share with families that students who apply for financial aid will receive a financial aid letter and package from each school that offers them acceptance. The format of the letters and terms used can vary; remind families that it is important to pay close attention to the details to make sure the comparisons are accurate. Counselors might encourage students and families to review letters and packages with a trusted source to help verify details and think through implications. 

Help students understand the difference between grants and loans

Explain to students that grants and scholarships, sometimes referred to as “gift aid,” are funds that do not need to be paid back whereas loans must be repaid, usually after college graduation and with interest. Make sure students and families understand that some forms of grants are only available for a year and some for the entire four years and it is critical to identify the length of assistance. And, help provide students with tools to calculate what the repayment plan and amounts will look like and compare that to average starting salaries in their projected fields. 

Encourage students to write a financial aid appeal letter, if appropriate

Many families are unaware that they can appeal a financial aid package. If students are accepted at multiple schools and receive a financial aid offer that offers significantly more support than that of a preferred school, encourage them to email or call the financial aid office at the preferred choice and share the details of the competitive package. This little bit of work on the front end can make thousands of dollars of difference for students in the long run. 

Share relevant resources.

There are many high-quality resources available to help students and families translate the many numbers on a financial aid letter to how they will actually impact a student and/or family’s ability to afford college. Counselors can share these resources with families as they work to make these important decisions. 

  • 13 Things To Know When Evaluating Your Financial Aid Offers: This article from the Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education gives key tips for students and families to consider as they try to understand and compare different financial aid packages. 
  • U.S. Department of Education Resources: This Annotated College Financing Plan highlights key pieces of a financial aid letter and defines what they mean for students and families. The accompanying template and glossary can help students and families more deeply understand the implications of different components of the award letter.
  • College-Specific Price Calculators: Many colleges and universities have their own tools to help students and families gauge the cost of attendance. This site from U.S. News and World Report has curated links for the calculators for 300 of the top national universities and national liberal arts colleges as determined by their ranking system. 

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The cost of attending colleges and universities has increased exponentially during recent decades. According to a report from the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the United States is $36,436 per year. Most families do not have the economic means to afford four years of college with their own income and savings. This is especially true for families with multiple children who hope to attend a college or university. Because of this, most students rely on some form of financial aid to pay for higher education and postsecondary training. Statistics back this up: 84% of all college students receive financial aid in some form, with full-time undergraduate students receiving an average of $14,800 in financial aid. 

Despite being a standard part of postsecondary planning for most students, the financial aid process can feel overwhelmingly complicated, confusing, and stressful. Many students and families have not been through a similar process before this point and the stakes are incredibly high as the outcome is critically tied to a student’s long-term trajectory. This uncertainty is magnified this year as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone major changes and been rolled out on a modified timeline, with many students and families having significantly less time to analyze and process different options and packages from schools. 

The month of February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. Counselors can use this month to share information with families about how to access financial aid, answer questions about navigating this process, and normalize the idea that most students and families require some assistance to afford higher education. 

Tips & Resources to Support Families Through Financial Aid Awareness Month

Many students and families do not have deep financial backgrounds to equip them to understand nuanced differences in financial aid offerings and packages. A key piece of this process is being able to distinguish what different elements of financial aid will mean for students and families in the short- and long-term. Counselors can use the tips and resources below to demystify financial aid for families and help ensure that students make thoughtful and strategic choices that appropriately balance academics with financial considerations. 

Coach families to compare different letters and pay close attention to details

Share with families that students who apply for financial aid will receive a financial aid letter and package from each school that offers them acceptance. The format of the letters and terms used can vary; remind families that it is important to pay close attention to the details to make sure the comparisons are accurate. Counselors might encourage students and families to review letters and packages with a trusted source to help verify details and think through implications. 

Help students understand the difference between grants and loans

Explain to students that grants and scholarships, sometimes referred to as “gift aid,” are funds that do not need to be paid back whereas loans must be repaid, usually after college graduation and with interest. Make sure students and families understand that some forms of grants are only available for a year and some for the entire four years and it is critical to identify the length of assistance. And, help provide students with tools to calculate what the repayment plan and amounts will look like and compare that to average starting salaries in their projected fields. 

Encourage students to write a financial aid appeal letter, if appropriate

Many families are unaware that they can appeal a financial aid package. If students are accepted at multiple schools and receive a financial aid offer that offers significantly more support than that of a preferred school, encourage them to email or call the financial aid office at the preferred choice and share the details of the competitive package. This little bit of work on the front end can make thousands of dollars of difference for students in the long run. 

Share relevant resources.

There are many high-quality resources available to help students and families translate the many numbers on a financial aid letter to how they will actually impact a student and/or family’s ability to afford college. Counselors can share these resources with families as they work to make these important decisions. 

  • 13 Things To Know When Evaluating Your Financial Aid Offers: This article from the Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education gives key tips for students and families to consider as they try to understand and compare different financial aid packages. 
  • U.S. Department of Education Resources: This Annotated College Financing Plan highlights key pieces of a financial aid letter and defines what they mean for students and families. The accompanying template and glossary can help students and families more deeply understand the implications of different components of the award letter.
  • College-Specific Price Calculators: Many colleges and universities have their own tools to help students and families gauge the cost of attendance. This site from U.S. News and World Report has curated links for the calculators for 300 of the top national universities and national liberal arts colleges as determined by their ranking system. 

The cost of attending colleges and universities has increased exponentially during recent decades. According to a report from the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the United States is $36,436 per year. Most families do not have the economic means to afford four years of college with their own income and savings. This is especially true for families with multiple children who hope to attend a college or university. Because of this, most students rely on some form of financial aid to pay for higher education and postsecondary training. Statistics back this up: 84% of all college students receive financial aid in some form, with full-time undergraduate students receiving an average of $14,800 in financial aid. 

Despite being a standard part of postsecondary planning for most students, the financial aid process can feel overwhelmingly complicated, confusing, and stressful. Many students and families have not been through a similar process before this point and the stakes are incredibly high as the outcome is critically tied to a student’s long-term trajectory. This uncertainty is magnified this year as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone major changes and been rolled out on a modified timeline, with many students and families having significantly less time to analyze and process different options and packages from schools. 

The month of February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. Counselors can use this month to share information with families about how to access financial aid, answer questions about navigating this process, and normalize the idea that most students and families require some assistance to afford higher education. 

Tips & Resources to Support Families Through Financial Aid Awareness Month

Many students and families do not have deep financial backgrounds to equip them to understand nuanced differences in financial aid offerings and packages. A key piece of this process is being able to distinguish what different elements of financial aid will mean for students and families in the short- and long-term. Counselors can use the tips and resources below to demystify financial aid for families and help ensure that students make thoughtful and strategic choices that appropriately balance academics with financial considerations. 

Coach families to compare different letters and pay close attention to details

Share with families that students who apply for financial aid will receive a financial aid letter and package from each school that offers them acceptance. The format of the letters and terms used can vary; remind families that it is important to pay close attention to the details to make sure the comparisons are accurate. Counselors might encourage students and families to review letters and packages with a trusted source to help verify details and think through implications. 

Help students understand the difference between grants and loans

Explain to students that grants and scholarships, sometimes referred to as “gift aid,” are funds that do not need to be paid back whereas loans must be repaid, usually after college graduation and with interest. Make sure students and families understand that some forms of grants are only available for a year and some for the entire four years and it is critical to identify the length of assistance. And, help provide students with tools to calculate what the repayment plan and amounts will look like and compare that to average starting salaries in their projected fields. 

Encourage students to write a financial aid appeal letter, if appropriate

Many families are unaware that they can appeal a financial aid package. If students are accepted at multiple schools and receive a financial aid offer that offers significantly more support than that of a preferred school, encourage them to email or call the financial aid office at the preferred choice and share the details of the competitive package. This little bit of work on the front end can make thousands of dollars of difference for students in the long run. 

Share relevant resources.

There are many high-quality resources available to help students and families translate the many numbers on a financial aid letter to how they will actually impact a student and/or family’s ability to afford college. Counselors can share these resources with families as they work to make these important decisions. 

  • 13 Things To Know When Evaluating Your Financial Aid Offers: This article from the Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education gives key tips for students and families to consider as they try to understand and compare different financial aid packages. 
  • U.S. Department of Education Resources: This Annotated College Financing Plan highlights key pieces of a financial aid letter and defines what they mean for students and families. The accompanying template and glossary can help students and families more deeply understand the implications of different components of the award letter.
  • College-Specific Price Calculators: Many colleges and universities have their own tools to help students and families gauge the cost of attendance. This site from U.S. News and World Report has curated links for the calculators for 300 of the top national universities and national liberal arts colleges as determined by their ranking system. 

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The cost of attending colleges and universities has increased exponentially during recent decades. According to a report from the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the United States is $36,436 per year. Most families do not have the economic means to afford four years of college with their own income and savings. This is especially true for families with multiple children who hope to attend a college or university. Because of this, most students rely on some form of financial aid to pay for higher education and postsecondary training. Statistics back this up: 84% of all college students receive financial aid in some form, with full-time undergraduate students receiving an average of $14,800 in financial aid. 

Despite being a standard part of postsecondary planning for most students, the financial aid process can feel overwhelmingly complicated, confusing, and stressful. Many students and families have not been through a similar process before this point and the stakes are incredibly high as the outcome is critically tied to a student’s long-term trajectory. This uncertainty is magnified this year as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone major changes and been rolled out on a modified timeline, with many students and families having significantly less time to analyze and process different options and packages from schools. 

The month of February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. Counselors can use this month to share information with families about how to access financial aid, answer questions about navigating this process, and normalize the idea that most students and families require some assistance to afford higher education. 

Tips & Resources to Support Families Through Financial Aid Awareness Month

Many students and families do not have deep financial backgrounds to equip them to understand nuanced differences in financial aid offerings and packages. A key piece of this process is being able to distinguish what different elements of financial aid will mean for students and families in the short- and long-term. Counselors can use the tips and resources below to demystify financial aid for families and help ensure that students make thoughtful and strategic choices that appropriately balance academics with financial considerations. 

Coach families to compare different letters and pay close attention to details

Share with families that students who apply for financial aid will receive a financial aid letter and package from each school that offers them acceptance. The format of the letters and terms used can vary; remind families that it is important to pay close attention to the details to make sure the comparisons are accurate. Counselors might encourage students and families to review letters and packages with a trusted source to help verify details and think through implications. 

Help students understand the difference between grants and loans

Explain to students that grants and scholarships, sometimes referred to as “gift aid,” are funds that do not need to be paid back whereas loans must be repaid, usually after college graduation and with interest. Make sure students and families understand that some forms of grants are only available for a year and some for the entire four years and it is critical to identify the length of assistance. And, help provide students with tools to calculate what the repayment plan and amounts will look like and compare that to average starting salaries in their projected fields. 

Encourage students to write a financial aid appeal letter, if appropriate

Many families are unaware that they can appeal a financial aid package. If students are accepted at multiple schools and receive a financial aid offer that offers significantly more support than that of a preferred school, encourage them to email or call the financial aid office at the preferred choice and share the details of the competitive package. This little bit of work on the front end can make thousands of dollars of difference for students in the long run. 

Share relevant resources.

There are many high-quality resources available to help students and families translate the many numbers on a financial aid letter to how they will actually impact a student and/or family’s ability to afford college. Counselors can share these resources with families as they work to make these important decisions. 

  • 13 Things To Know When Evaluating Your Financial Aid Offers: This article from the Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education gives key tips for students and families to consider as they try to understand and compare different financial aid packages. 
  • U.S. Department of Education Resources: This Annotated College Financing Plan highlights key pieces of a financial aid letter and defines what they mean for students and families. The accompanying template and glossary can help students and families more deeply understand the implications of different components of the award letter.
  • College-Specific Price Calculators: Many colleges and universities have their own tools to help students and families gauge the cost of attendance. This site from U.S. News and World Report has curated links for the calculators for 300 of the top national universities and national liberal arts colleges as determined by their ranking system. 
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The cost of attending colleges and universities has increased exponentially during recent decades. According to a report from the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the United States is $36,436 per year. Most families do not have the economic means to afford four years of college with their own income and savings. This is especially true for families with multiple children who hope to attend a college or university. Because of this, most students rely on some form of financial aid to pay for higher education and postsecondary training. Statistics back this up: 84% of all college students receive financial aid in some form, with full-time undergraduate students receiving an average of $14,800 in financial aid. 

Despite being a standard part of postsecondary planning for most students, the financial aid process can feel overwhelmingly complicated, confusing, and stressful. Many students and families have not been through a similar process before this point and the stakes are incredibly high as the outcome is critically tied to a student’s long-term trajectory. This uncertainty is magnified this year as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone major changes and been rolled out on a modified timeline, with many students and families having significantly less time to analyze and process different options and packages from schools. 

The month of February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. Counselors can use this month to share information with families about how to access financial aid, answer questions about navigating this process, and normalize the idea that most students and families require some assistance to afford higher education. 

Tips & Resources to Support Families Through Financial Aid Awareness Month

Many students and families do not have deep financial backgrounds to equip them to understand nuanced differences in financial aid offerings and packages. A key piece of this process is being able to distinguish what different elements of financial aid will mean for students and families in the short- and long-term. Counselors can use the tips and resources below to demystify financial aid for families and help ensure that students make thoughtful and strategic choices that appropriately balance academics with financial considerations. 

Coach families to compare different letters and pay close attention to details

Share with families that students who apply for financial aid will receive a financial aid letter and package from each school that offers them acceptance. The format of the letters and terms used can vary; remind families that it is important to pay close attention to the details to make sure the comparisons are accurate. Counselors might encourage students and families to review letters and packages with a trusted source to help verify details and think through implications. 

Help students understand the difference between grants and loans

Explain to students that grants and scholarships, sometimes referred to as “gift aid,” are funds that do not need to be paid back whereas loans must be repaid, usually after college graduation and with interest. Make sure students and families understand that some forms of grants are only available for a year and some for the entire four years and it is critical to identify the length of assistance. And, help provide students with tools to calculate what the repayment plan and amounts will look like and compare that to average starting salaries in their projected fields. 

Encourage students to write a financial aid appeal letter, if appropriate

Many families are unaware that they can appeal a financial aid package. If students are accepted at multiple schools and receive a financial aid offer that offers significantly more support than that of a preferred school, encourage them to email or call the financial aid office at the preferred choice and share the details of the competitive package. This little bit of work on the front end can make thousands of dollars of difference for students in the long run. 

Share relevant resources.

There are many high-quality resources available to help students and families translate the many numbers on a financial aid letter to how they will actually impact a student and/or family’s ability to afford college. Counselors can share these resources with families as they work to make these important decisions. 

  • 13 Things To Know When Evaluating Your Financial Aid Offers: This article from the Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education gives key tips for students and families to consider as they try to understand and compare different financial aid packages. 
  • U.S. Department of Education Resources: This Annotated College Financing Plan highlights key pieces of a financial aid letter and defines what they mean for students and families. The accompanying template and glossary can help students and families more deeply understand the implications of different components of the award letter.
  • College-Specific Price Calculators: Many colleges and universities have their own tools to help students and families gauge the cost of attendance. This site from U.S. News and World Report has curated links for the calculators for 300 of the top national universities and national liberal arts colleges as determined by their ranking system. 

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The cost of attending colleges and universities has increased exponentially during recent decades. According to a report from the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the United States is $36,436 per year. Most families do not have the economic means to afford four years of college with their own income and savings. This is especially true for families with multiple children who hope to attend a college or university. Because of this, most students rely on some form of financial aid to pay for higher education and postsecondary training. Statistics back this up: 84% of all college students receive financial aid in some form, with full-time undergraduate students receiving an average of $14,800 in financial aid. 

Despite being a standard part of postsecondary planning for most students, the financial aid process can feel overwhelmingly complicated, confusing, and stressful. Many students and families have not been through a similar process before this point and the stakes are incredibly high as the outcome is critically tied to a student’s long-term trajectory. This uncertainty is magnified this year as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has undergone major changes and been rolled out on a modified timeline, with many students and families having significantly less time to analyze and process different options and packages from schools. 

The month of February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. Counselors can use this month to share information with families about how to access financial aid, answer questions about navigating this process, and normalize the idea that most students and families require some assistance to afford higher education. 

Tips & Resources to Support Families Through Financial Aid Awareness Month

Many students and families do not have deep financial backgrounds to equip them to understand nuanced differences in financial aid offerings and packages. A key piece of this process is being able to distinguish what different elements of financial aid will mean for students and families in the short- and long-term. Counselors can use the tips and resources below to demystify financial aid for families and help ensure that students make thoughtful and strategic choices that appropriately balance academics with financial considerations. 

Coach families to compare different letters and pay close attention to details

Share with families that students who apply for financial aid will receive a financial aid letter and package from each school that offers them acceptance. The format of the letters and terms used can vary; remind families that it is important to pay close attention to the details to make sure the comparisons are accurate. Counselors might encourage students and families to review letters and packages with a trusted source to help verify details and think through implications. 

Help students understand the difference between grants and loans

Explain to students that grants and scholarships, sometimes referred to as “gift aid,” are funds that do not need to be paid back whereas loans must be repaid, usually after college graduation and with interest. Make sure students and families understand that some forms of grants are only available for a year and some for the entire four years and it is critical to identify the length of assistance. And, help provide students with tools to calculate what the repayment plan and amounts will look like and compare that to average starting salaries in their projected fields. 

Encourage students to write a financial aid appeal letter, if appropriate

Many families are unaware that they can appeal a financial aid package. If students are accepted at multiple schools and receive a financial aid offer that offers significantly more support than that of a preferred school, encourage them to email or call the financial aid office at the preferred choice and share the details of the competitive package. This little bit of work on the front end can make thousands of dollars of difference for students in the long run. 

Share relevant resources.

There are many high-quality resources available to help students and families translate the many numbers on a financial aid letter to how they will actually impact a student and/or family’s ability to afford college. Counselors can share these resources with families as they work to make these important decisions. 

  • 13 Things To Know When Evaluating Your Financial Aid Offers: This article from the Federal Student Aid Office of the U.S. Department of Education gives key tips for students and families to consider as they try to understand and compare different financial aid packages. 
  • U.S. Department of Education Resources: This Annotated College Financing Plan highlights key pieces of a financial aid letter and defines what they mean for students and families. The accompanying template and glossary can help students and families more deeply understand the implications of different components of the award letter.
  • College-Specific Price Calculators: Many colleges and universities have their own tools to help students and families gauge the cost of attendance. This site from U.S. News and World Report has curated links for the calculators for 300 of the top national universities and national liberal arts colleges as determined by their ranking system.