Southern Regional Forum 2018: Comparing Apples to Kumquats: Understanding Financial Aid Award Letters
Southern Regional Forum 2018: Comparing Apples to Kumquats: Understanding Financial Aid Award LettersDean Bentley, Senior Director, Financial Aid Engagement & Services, College Board
This year’s Southern Regional Forum was held in Orlando, Florida and drew more than 350 attendees from across K12 and Higher Education. Regional Forums provide a unique opportunity for members to come together across multiple disciplines to engage in meaningful conversations on behalf of the students we serve. I attended a session called Comparing Apples to Kumquats: Understanding Financial Aid Award Letters, and experienced a lively conversation between counselors and aid practitioners. Rachelle Feldman, Associate Provost/Director of Financial Aid and Holley Nichols, Senior Assistant Director, financial aid experts from the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led our conversation.
How can we make award letters more understandable to students and families? What questions should a family ask if they are confused? And how can counselors and aid practitioners best help families navigate the differences in award notifications across institutions? These were questions and themes explored in our conversation, and through a hands-on exercise where we paired up with others to analyze a few case studies.
According to Feldman and Nichols, after reviewing an award notification, families should at a minimum:
- Know their total cost of attendance and what comprises this total, such as tuition and fees, room and board, transportation, books and supplies.
- Be able to differentiate between sticker price (total cost before gift aid) and net price (total cost less gift aid).
- Understand the types of financial aid awarded and the differences between gift assistance and self-help options (i.e. loans and work-study).
- Identify any obligations or requirements for the student to secure the awards offered.
Our presenters also provided a few practical tools attendees can use in their day-to-day interactions with students:
- The College Board’s Financial Aid Essentials - includes the basics of financial aid award letters and a glossary of common terms.
- The BigFutureTM Compare Your Aid Awards tool – provides students with an online worksheet to assist with understanding costs, types of aid and net price.
- collegeboard.org/counselors - an online resource for counselors with links to helpful financial planning webinars. Coming soon - be on the lookout for a webinar dedicated to understanding award notifications. Sign up for the counselor e-newsletter to learn more.
For students who need financial assistance, receiving an award notification is a pivotal moment on the pathway to college. A clear understanding of the financial aid notification can mean the difference between making the decision to accept an offer of admission or to decline it. With professionals like our Southern Regional Forum attendees and presenters on the case I have no doubt that families will be much better positioned to make good decisions about their academic and financial futures.