It’s a major award! Understanding award letters

Anyone remember Ramona Quimby, star of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books? A favorite of mine as an early reader, it was fun to share her effervescence with my own kids when they were young. We especially loved her first day in kindergarten. In Ramona the Pest, Ramona’s teacher guides her to her seat and asks her to “sit here for the present.” Ramona sticks firmly to her chair throughout that long first day of kindergarten, unwilling to move to the rug for circle time, or play with classmates, lest she miss out on the promised gift. Of course, in this case, we readers know that Ramona doesn’t realize that present means ‘now.’ And so, I ask you to consider another meaning of the word, ‘award.’

When I first began working with IN College Planning, I was confused about the need for two folders in each client file–one labeled ‘award letters,’ the other, ‘scholarship award letters.’ Weren’t they one and the same? Too often, that’s what colleges would lead you to believe. While for many, receiving an award letter signals, ‘yay, free money!’ in reality, institutions use the word award as a synonym of bestow or allot. From this day forward, I beg you to re-label any award letter you receive as an allotment letter.

An award letter is simply a tally of the various funds you will receive to pay for college. Some schools, (lookin’ at you, Miami) do a great job of clearly spelling out what’s a gift, what’s a loan. Others (no call outs here) jumble everything together in an unclear mess; it’s up to you to sort out what you’ll need to repay in this financial aid package.

Let’s look at two examples:

Letter A:



As we can see, this institution does a terrific job of categorizing gift aid as well as loans. The student who accepts this loan package knows exactly what is being covered by merit aid. The university offers options for loans, but doesn’t assume that the entire cost will be covered with either category. In any event, the school is clear about money in hand vs. available funds to borrow vs. what remains. Well done, Miami University!

Letter B:

Another Award


This letter invites an element of mystery into the process. What is the VU Financing option? How do I get it? Do I need to repay it? How will it be managed? Too little information makes it difficult for the student to understand what they’re on the hook for. It doesn’t need to be this hard, especially since offers are available via student portal. There should be all sorts of links to information about what all of this means for your future.

Unfortunately, the majority of the award letters more closely resemble the 2nd letter. And…it’s understandable. No school wants to send a letter that will make you say, ‘pass.’

It’s so easy to be misled about the cost of your education. At IN, we want to be sure our clients know what their education costs, and whether or not the financial aid package offered is one that makes sense for them. In the end, it’s important to remember, that college needs you more than you need that college.

Have questions? Not sure the financial aid package offered is the right one for you? Not sure the degree is worth the cost? Get in touch, I’d love to help

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