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How Much Will I Get From Financial Aid?

Budgeting Student Loans

6 minute read

Getting accepted to college is exciting, but figuring out where to attend school may come down to finances. How much financial aid you can get may determine where you end up getting your diploma. Before you commit to a college, it’s important to review the amount of assistance each school is offering. To help you through that process, we’ve provided answers to some frequently asked questions.

Do I qualify for financial aid?

Most students are eligible for some financial aid, and there is no income limit to qualify for federal student aid. Any student can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for aid.

When you complete the FAFSA, you’re giving the federal government and the colleges to which you apply the information they need to determine how much financial aid you might receive. Federal Student Aid (FSA) is the office within the U.S. Department of Education that provides financial aid assistance in the form of grants, loans, and work-study funds.

The colleges or career schools you list on your FAFSA will use criteria from the FSA to determine your eligibility for federal and state-based financial aid. They’ll calculate your entire financial aid package and send you an offer.

What information will I see in my financial aid award letter?

Each college you’re accepted to will send you a financial aid award letter, sometimes known as a FAFSA award letter or student aid package. The following guide can help you understand what’s included in financial aid award letters and how to calculate costs at each school. Understanding how to read financial aid award letters will help you make precise comparisons so you can find the most affordable school for you.

Cost of Attendance

A school’s “Cost of Attendance” is a standardized number that each school is required by law to calculate and share with current and prospective undergraduate and graduate students. It’s the average amount students spend annually to attend the school, including tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses.

Scholarships and Grants Awarded to You

Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants don’t have to be paid back and can significantly chip away at your personal cost of attending a school. In this section of the letter, you’ll find merit-based scholarships, need-based grants (from federal, state, and school sources), and any other “awards” you don’t have to repay.

 Remember, in addition to the scholarships and grants awarded by the school and federal government, you should apply for as many private scholarships as possible to lower your overall expenses. These won’t be reflected on your financial aid award letter.

Federal Student Loans and Work-Study Programs Available to You

Your award letter should also detail any federal student loans you’re eligible for after completing the FAFSA. Just like private loans, federal student loans must be paid back over time — with interest.

Students with financial need may also qualify for work-study programs, which are federally funded part-time jobs that allow students to earn money while in school to pay for education expenses.

Your Student Aid Index (SAI)

If you’re asking, “What’s the Student Aid Index?” You are not alone. Prior to the 2024–25 Award Year, your family’s need-based aid was calculated using a formula called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). As part of the FAFSA Simplification Act, the FSA has replaced the EFC formula with the Student Aid Index (SAI).

Your SAI is a number generated by the government after you complete the FAFSA. This number will be uniform on all your financial aid award letters, and it helps schools determine your qualifications for financial aid. The lower your SAI, the more aid you’re eligible for.

While your SAI is the same at each school, your financial need may vary depending on the college or university because the cost of attendance is different at each school.

What if some information is missing?

As mentioned above, some schools provide more comprehensive information than others do. You and your family may need to do some extra research and your own math. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools available to help you fill in the blanks.

Every school offers a “Net Price Calculator” to help students understand how much money they’ll need to cover the financial gap left over after scholarships and grants. You can find your school’s calculator using the U.S. Department of Education’s search tool.

If you still have questions, contact the financial aid office at each school. They can answer your questions about their specific school so you can understand all your options.

How do I decide which offer to accept?

The answer to this question is different for everyone, but if finances are your primary concern, the solution is simple. Once you receive the financial aid award letter from each school under consideration, you can begin to break down the numbers and compare your “net” costs. Essentially, this number is the school’s cost of attendance minus the scholarships and grants you’ve been awarded. The school with the lowest net cost for you will require the least amount in savings and student loans.

What if I need additional education funds?

Most students face a financial gap that’s not covered by scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. They fill this gap with a combination of personal savings, federal loans, and private loans.

Creditworthy students from North Carolina, or from out-of-state attending schools in North Carolina, are fortunate to have the NC Assist Loan Program as a resource. NC Assist is offered by College Foundation, Inc., a trusted North Carolina non-profit lender. This program provides loans to students and parents with a North Carolina connection to help bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of college. After receiving your financial aid offer, you’ll know how much money you’ll need to borrow. With no fees and competitive rates, NC Assist may be the right fit to help you cover the remaining costs of college.

Get started today and apply for an NC Assist Student Loan!

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