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Paying for College

Making Sense of Financial Aid Offers: Our Top Ten FAQs

If you're one of the many families in the midst of college acceptance season, you likely have a stack of financial aid offers at home. Financial aid can be a big help in paying the college bill, but trying to decipher those offers can cause considerable confusion. Acronyms run rampant in financial aid, and the same loan or grant can have a different name on each college's offer.


We've gathered our top ten frequently asked questions of late on the topic of financial aid offers. Read below to learn more about grants, loans, work-study, and other details related to those offers. Also be sure to check out our Financial Aid Fact Sheet for definitions on all of the main types of financial aid.

    1. We haven't received our financial aid offers. What should we do?
      Many colleges are still sending out financial aid offers in these first two weeks of April. However it's a good idea to call the financial aid office to see if they're waiting on any additional documentation from your family. Some colleges will post the offers to an online portal, rather than sending it in the mail, so make sure you've checked the student's online college account to see if anything has been posted.

    1. We didn't receive any federal or Massachusetts state grants on our financial aid offer. How do we apply for those?
      You were automatically considered for federal and state grants when you submitted the FAFSA®, and any grants you received would have appeared on your financial aid offer. If you haven't yet submitted the FAFSA, you can still do so to be considered for federal and state aid (but make sure you get it in before the MA deadline of May 1st!)

    1. Why do the financial aid offer amounts differ so much from college to college?
      This question causes a lot of confusion for families! You may see very different types and amounts of financial aid from each school because colleges have varying levels of financial aid funding and different enrollment goals. This means that while your EFC stays relatively the same from school to school, your financial aid may look very different depending on the goals and budget of each college.

    1. What is Federal SEOG?
      SEOG stands for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. It's a federal grant awarded to students who demonstrate high financial need. Colleges with SEOG funding determine which students receive the grant, as well as the amount received. Not every college has SEOG funding.

    1. Where do I find out more details about the state financial aid I received, like the MA No Interest Loan (NIL) and the Gilbert Grant?
      For full details on all Massachusetts state aid, you can visit the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) website at osfa.mass.edu.

    1. How does work-study work?
      Federal work-study is an offer of employment from the college. The student has the opportunity to earn the funds by working in a part-time job on or near campus. The college will be in touch with the student over the summer to provide details on securing a work-study job. The work-study award does not appear as a credit on the student account as does the rest of the financial aid, but comes to the student in paycheck form as it is earned throughout the academic year. The student alone decides how to spend the work-study earnings. If a student did not receive a work-study offer, there may be other part-time jobs available on or near campus.

    1. Why do I have a Federal Parent PLUS Loan on my financial aid offer?
      Families should be aware that the PLUS Loan is indeed a loan, which must be repaid, and not a source of financial aid. Some colleges include a PLUS Loan on the financial aid offer as a suggestion for financing the family portion of the college expenses. If you received a PLUS Loan on your financial aid offer, you are not required to take the loan. If you do desire to take the loan, which is credit-based, you will still need to apply for the loan and receive approval. Families should weigh all college financing options carefully before making a decision on borrowing a loan.

    1. Can we ask the college to take another look at our financial aid offer if we have special circumstances?
      Yes, you can contact the financial aid office if you have special financial or household circumstances that affect your ability to pay the college bill. The financial aid office may be able to consider you for limited additional funding based on a recent change in your situation, such as job loss, divorce, significant medical expenses, and other unusual circumstances, including one-time increases in income. Contact the college to find out the process for reconsideration (often called "appealing") and the documentation required.

    1. What happens to my financial aid offer if I receive private scholarships this summer?
      Private scholarships are a helpful way for families to fill any gap in the financial aid eligibility. The financial aid office will add the amount of your private scholarship to your financial aid offer. Based on federal regulation, the amount of your scholarship will need to fit within the total amount of your financial aid eligibility, which is calculated by subtracting your EFC from the total Cost of Attendance of your school. If the sum of your private scholarships and financial aid exceeds your financial aid eligibility, the financial aid office may need to adjust your financial aid offer. Contact your college's financial aid office for more information.

    1. Will my financial aid remain the same for four years?
      This question can be answered best by each college financial aid office. Many colleges strive to keep financial aid consistent from year to year for families whose financial and household situation remains the same. Changes in financial or household situations can sometimes result in an increase or decrease in financial aid. Keep in mind that a financial aid application must be submitted each year, and financial aid does require the student to remain in satisfactory academic standing.



Check back tomorrow for our FAQs on financial aid next steps!







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