Comparing Financial Aid Award Letters

Comparing Financial Aid Award Letters

You’ve applied to college, submitted your FAFSA and Cal grant Applications, received your Student Aid Report, been accepted to one or more colleges, and now have financial aid award letters to compare. Understanding your financial aid award letters is critical to comparing the costs of attending different colleges.

Josh Warburg, Philanthropic Services AssociateUnderstanding your financial aid award letters is critical to comparing the costs of attending different colleges. – Josh Warburg, CFMC Philanthropic Services Officer

Types of Financial Aid

Financial aid award letters detail the types and amounts of aid that you qualify for. There are several sources of money that you may use to pay for college:

  • Grants and scholarships are awarded by the federal government, state governments, colleges, and private institutions (like the Community Foundation for Monterey County). These do not need to be repaid.
  • Loans are generally offered by the federal government, although some students also take out loans from private banks. These do need to be repaid.
  • Work-study is aid that you work for, usually through an on-campus job. This money is earned and does not need to be paid back.

The most important part of reading a financial aid award letter is to understand your out-of-pocket expenses. Your out-of-pocket expenses are equal to the college’s cost of attendance minus any grants or scholarships. Out-of-pocket expense is the amount that you and your family must pay, earn, or borrow in order to pay for college.


For more information:

Both the importance and cost of earning a college degree are growing. The Community Foundation is proud to partner with donors to support local students in need. To learn more about you can support students’ dreams of attending college, visit our scholarships page. Students looking for advice on selecting a college, completing college applications, and applying for financial aid can visit our scholarship resources page.

Josh Warburg is Philanthropic Services Officer at the CFMC. He works with donors to connect their philanthropic interests with community needs and manages the foundation’s portfolio of scholarship programs. He holds a Masters of Public Administration from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a BA from UC Davis.