There’s a new path to college. Ask a Citizen to show you the way.

We get what it’s like to pay for college because we’ve been there, too. That’s why we have created these educational tools to help guide you – whether you’re a parent, undergrad, or grad student – to make the best choice for your needs.

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Understanding Your Financial Award Letter

Learn about the details in your financial aid award letter to get a clear picture of how much you’ll need to pay for college.

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  • Scholarships for college are available in many forms and from a variety of sources, and most require students to submit an application of some sort. Typically, scholarships are awarded by schools, businesses and other organizations based on achievements or merit. The best approach to applying for scholarships is to submit as many applications as possible. There is no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply for, and the more you receive – the less you will ultimately have to pay for your education. High school guidance counselors, community center postings and local sports organizations are a good place to start your search, as well as online resources like > and Unigo >.
  • The first step for anyone looking for financial aid for college is to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) >. The U.S. Department of Education provides more than $150 billion in grants, work-study funds and loans each year, and completing the FAFSA is the only way to see how much aid you are eligible to receive. In addition, the financial aid division of the College Board – the College Scholarship Service (CSS) > – offers the PROFILE form which allows students to apply for nonfederal aid from almost 300 colleges and scholarship programs.
  • The FAFSA is a free annual application for financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education that your school uses to determine how much federal aid you are eligible to receive. The CSS PROFILE form is an application for nonfederal aid through The College Board that is required by some private colleges and universities. The information requested is more detailed than that on the FAFSA, and includes questions specific to the school or degree program in which the student is enrolled. There is a cost to submit the PROFILE form – although some families may qualify to waive the fee. Visit the College Board > website for more details and instructions on completing the CSS PROFILE form.
  • Once you have submitted your financial aid applications, the school(s) you applied to will process the information and calculate how much aid they can offer. They will determine all of the grants, work-study funds and federal loans available to you and send you an itemized list called a financial aid award letter. While there is no standard format for the form, every school provides the letters to students and families so they can decide which aid they want to accept and determine how much they will be responsible to pay.
  • Since every school has their own version of an award letter, the terms and abbreviations used on the letter may differ from one college to the next. Regardless of the abbreviations used, the letters contain details on the cost of tuition, housing, meal plans and other expenses, as well as the grants, federal loans and other aid you are eligible to receive. To discuss the specifics of the award letter, the best starting point is the Financial Aid Office at the college.
  • There are several options for students who received a financial aid package that does not cover the entire cost of their tuition bill. If a family’s financial situation has changed since submitting the FAFSA, they can appeal to the Financial Aid Office to find out if additional aid is available. If the financial aid is still not enough, students and their families can pay out-of-pocket from savings or other funds, or apply for private student loans to fill the gap between financial aid and the amount due to the school.
  • The biggest difference between the two is that Federal student loans are originated by the Department of Education; whereas private student loans are originated by banks and other companies. Federal student loans are offered to students based on financial need, while the approval and interest rates for private student loans is based on credit history and debt-to-income ratios.
  • Most student loan lenders allow you to borrow up to the total cost of your education, which is determined by the college or university and includes the cost of housing, meal plans, books, and other education related expenses. Every school has their own policy on handling the money for education related expenses, so it’s important to check with the bursar’s office to find out how and when you will have access to those funds.
  • Most private and federal student loans allow you to defer making payments until 6 months after you graduate or leave school. While it’s helpful to focus on studying instead of working to pay the bills, there are benefits to making payments toward student loans while in school. Interest begins to accrue on most student loans on the day funds are sent to the school, and will continue to do so until the loan is paid in full. Check to see if the lender offers alternative payment plans, like interest-only or partial payments.
  • To determine how much to borrow; start by reviewing the financial aid award letter from the college. This will detail the cost of tuition, housing, and meal plans for the semester or year, and also the amounts of FREE AID you are eligible to receive. Then, add the education related costs from the letter to any other anticipated expenses to determine the TOTAL COST. Subtract the amount of FREE AID from the TOTAL COST to calculate the NET COST – the amount you are responsible to pay to the school.
  • Yes. Most private student loan lenders make decisions based on credit score, income, and debts. However, they also understand that many full-time students may not have the income or credit history to be approved on their own. Students are encouraged to apply for private student loans with a co-signer who is willing to help borrow the funds. The lender will then make their decision to loan money based on the cosigner’s credit information, and the cosigner will also be responsible for repayment of the loan.
  • A co-signer is basically the second borrower on a student loan. Most college students do not have a steady income, or the established credit history to be approved for a loan on their own, so a cosigner can apply with the student and the decision will be based on the their credit information. It may not be their education the loan is paying for, but they and the student are equally responsible for the repayment of the debt; the balance, repayment status, and any delinquencies for the loan are reported to the credit bureaus just as it is for the student.
  • While cash gifts are always welcome to most college students, parents and family members can help in a few other ways as well. They can apply as a co-signer on a student loan, access other borrowing options like home equity loans and tax savings plans, or take out a parent loan – like the Citizens Bank Student Loan for Parents – to help close the gap between free aid and the cost of education.
  • For a student loan, the primary borrower is the student who is attending classes and working toward a degree, while a parent or other individual applies as the co-signer. For parent loans, the student is not financially responsible for the debt. A parent or other individual can take out one of these loans to pay for a student’s education, and will be solely responsible for the repayment of the loan. These can be helpful for families who have exhausted Federal Aid and want to limit the burden of debt on their child.
  • There are many options to manage student loan debt once repayment has begun. Most federal loans are eligible to be consolidated using the Direct Consolidation Loan, and the resulting interest rate is the weighted average of the rates on the existing federal loans. For private student loans, there are banks and other lenders that offer student loan refinancing, and some allow you to combine federal and private loans. The interest rates, benefits and features differ from one lender to the next, and are typically based on the applicants’ credit information. It’s important to research all of the available options, including the Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan.
  • There can be benefits to refinancing or consolidating student loans, but the decision to refinance or consolidate student loans is a personal one and there are a lot of factors to consider. Before applying it’s important to understand the features, benefits and long term cost for each of your current loans, and compare them to the new loan you would have as the result. That is especially important when it comes to federal loans, which have some benefits that are not available with private loans. Check out "Should I Refinance? >" for more information.
  • Refinancing is the process of replacing a single existing student loan with a new loan that has a new interest rate, monthly payment, and length of time to repay. Available from banks and other private lenders, refinance interest rates and repayment terms available are usually based on the applicants’ credit information. Consolidation is the process of combining multiple loans into a single loan with one payment. Most federal loans are eligible to be consolidated using the Direct Consolidation Loan, and the resulting interest rate is the weighted average of the rates on the existing federal loans.