5 Things Parents Should Know About Award Letters

Your student filed the FAFSA and just received the first financial aid award letter from a college. Your student may be happy as this is yet another step in the process taking them ever closer to move-in day. But before accepting admission, it’s important you take a look and ensure the offered financial aid is right for your family’s situation. Here are a few things to consider when reviewing your student’s award letter.

  1. Award letters can come in a variety of formats and if your student receives an award letter from multiple colleges, they may not look the same. This can make comparing costs and awarded aid a bit tricky and confusing but there are ways to get an accurate comparison.

It’s important to compare like costs and like awarded aid. Consider additional listed costs or aid separately. If you get confused, using a spreadsheet or table that breaks down amounts might help. The U.S. Department of Education offers a shopping sheet that can provide a template.

  1. Colleges often include the maximum available federal student and parent loans on the award letter. If you have other means to pay, such as newly anticipated income, savings, gifts or a 529 college savings plan, you can decline the offered loans entirely or update the awarded loan amounts to a lesser value. You don’t have to accept the full amount of awarded loans.
  1. Loans listed on the award letter could include federal PLUS loans for parents. These loans allow parents to supplement the student’s awarded aid to better cover the cost of attendance. These loans enter repayment immediately and are entirely the responsibility of the parent — not the student. Be sure to review your student’s award letter carefully and discuss loan options and responsibilities.
  1. You may notice awarded aid doesn’t fully cover all costs. You have some options when it comes to covering the remaining costs. First, contact the school’s financial aid office and inform them of your situation. They may be able to offer monthly payment plans or suggest other options such as private student loans.
  1. When reviewing your student’s award letter, keep in mind that other costs will come up during the course of your student’s college career. Award letters often do not take into consideration additional or extra costs. Other costs that may not be included in the award letter are spending money if your student chooses to attend concerts, sporting events or other activities. Organizations your student chooses to join may also come with membership fees not detailed in the award letter. So be sure you or your student have some extra money set aside for these situations.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Replacing Non-Renewable Scholarships

As the academic year comes to a close, many college students face a harsh financial reality: Scholarships and grants that made the current year affordable will soon come to an end. Some awards are only intended to be applied to the first year of college; others carry renewal requirements, such as a minimum GPA or a specific major, that go unmet.

If fewer scholarship and grant funds will be available to you or your student next year, start planning now to make up the shortfall. Here are three ways students may replace non-renewable scholarships.

1. Find new scholarships. Although many scholarships are available to freshmen, you may be able to find scholarships for upperclassmen with a little effort.

  • If you have settled on a major, start with your academic department or college. Search the department website, visit the departmental office and talk to your academic adviser.
  • Stop in the campus financial aid office and see what scholarships are offered to students who have your academic and extracurricular interests.
  • Check with professional and pre-professional organizations about programs to help students in your intended career field.
  • Search online databases for upperclassmen scholarships. Certain scholarships like those offered by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and the Morris K. Udall Foundation are only for upperclassmen, while others allow applicants of any undergraduate level.
  • Look for local and small scholarships. A lot of students tend to compete for national and large scholarships. You may have better luck standing out among applicants for smaller and local awards.

2. Increase earnings. If you are unable to earn new scholarships, you may want to consider adding work hours.

  • During the school year, you may be able to find positions on or near campus that allow you to prepare for your intended career while earning money. Look for jobs as a teaching assistant, tutor or research assistant.
  • Resident Assistants in the dorms may qualify for reduced room and board costs, while other campus positions may allow you to study during slow times. Businesses near campus often hire college students during the academic year as well. Even part-time positions can pay well over time.
  • Over breaks, you can work more hours to increase income. Summer research on campus or for private, nonprofit and government organizations can help you create career connections.
  • If you need an internship to meet graduation requirements, look for paid positions that will offset your tuition, housing and transportation costs. Some colleges and organizations also offer stipends to help students who have an unpaid internship or co-op.

3. Lower costs. Especially in combination with increased earnings, lower costs can help you make up for the loss of non-renewed scholarships.

  • Consider living off campus. Carefully weigh the cost for paying rent (most leases run a full year instead of the 10-month academic term), furnishings, utilities, groceries and transportation against room and board rates to determine if moving will save you money.
  • Even small changes can help you save a large amount of money if you are consistent and diligent.
  • Plan ahead when purchasing furnishings, supplies and books to save. Make sure you take advantage of the least expensive option that will allow you to succeed.
  • Stick to a budget to cut costs year-round. Know where you can save the most money with a little effort.

By: Iowa Student Loan

What Your Award Letter Doesn’t Tell You

The daily life of a college student brings along associated costs. Many of these are detailed in the financial aid award letters and packets colleges send out, but still others also add up. Use this list of 14 expenses not normally included in most cost of attendance information to help you budget better.

1. Class- or major-specific materials and fees. Your award package probably provides an average cost for books and materials, but depending on specific classes, you may need to budget more. For example, you may need to purchase specialty art supplies, specific software or even tickets to local performances for certain classes.

2. Social and pre-professional dues and fees. Fraternities, sororities, pre-professional societies, clubs and student organizations often have membership fees, as well as costs associated with special events, trips, conferences and clothing.

3. Printing and photocopy fees. While the world of academics is progressively moving toward electronic communication, students often need to print materials, signs, resumes and portfolios for presentations, interviews and other occasions. Students may have a number of printed pages included in the cost of attendance, but watch especially for limits on color, 3-D and other special printing.

4. Clothing. Besides an initial outlay for clothes appropriate for the weather and fashions at a specific school, students often buy new clothes for theme days or holidays, special events, interviews and jobs. Don’t forget to budget spirit wear for game days.

5. Extra travel. Many college award packets include an average amount for transportation. This may not cover your specific costs for travel to and from a faraway home or travel expenses for study abroad, internships or co-ops, conferences, service trips or even trips over breaks. Students with cars may have parking, insurance and maintenance costs on and off campus, and those without may end up paying for cabs, Uber, trains or buses.

6. Bank and financial fees. If your financial institution doesn’t have a branch on or near campus, you may be responsible for extra fees for using the ATM. Colleges may also charge fees if you choose to use a payment plan or to pay your tuition bill by certain methods.

7. Health and fitness expenses. If a college doesn’t include membership to a campus fitness center in its fees, students may need to budget for that expense. In addition, physical therapy or personal training services may be available only at an extra charge.

8. Health insurance. On a related note, consider whether there are extra fees for using your family health insurance in the college area. Many colleges offer their own insurance plans and automatically enroll students. Check with the college to determine if you are being charged for health insurance and how you can avoid paying for double coverage.

9. Parent travel. If a student doesn’t attend college close to home, parents may find themselves paying to travel to and stay in the college community several times a year, either for visits, special events or college functions like orientation and family day.

10. Renter or dorm insurance. Parents may need to pay for an additional policy or increase current insurance coverage in case of loss or theft of personal items at college. Insurance may cover contents of a dorm room or off-campus housing, bikes and computers, as well as other items.

11. Storage or shipping for breaks. If a student attends college far from home, items that can’t be reasonably carted home will need to be either shipped or stored when the dorm closes for the year or if the student is between leases.

12. Legal fees. Colleges may provide free legal assistance to students, but some cases may require outside counsel. Although student legal situations could involve drugs or alcohol, other situations include car accidents, personal injury, landlord-tenant conflict, theft and more. In addition, students who are over the legal age may want to provide power of attorney or other legal documents to their parents or other parties.

13. Entertainment costs. Sporting events, concerts, movies and other entertainment options can add up for students. In addition, students may need to pay for cable or another TV subscription service, dining outside of a meal plan, snacks, beverages and more.

14. Student loan interest. All student loans begin accruing daily interest from the moment they are disbursed to the school or the student. The federal government will pay interest on subsidized federal loans while the student is in school at least half-time, but all other student loans have that interest added to the total repayment amount. You can choose to pay interest during the school years to offset the accrual; otherwise, include anticipated interest in financial plans for the future.

By: Iowa Student Loan

What to Do If Your Financial Aid Award Is Inaccurate or Incomplete


When you receive your financial aid award notification, check it carefully. Here are some circumstances you may run into and what you can do.

Situation What to Do
Your contact information is incorrect. Contact the financial aid office with your updated information. You also need to log in to the FAFSA portal to update your information.
Your tax or other financial information has changed since you submitted your FAFSA. Contact the financial aid office if your financial situation has changed drastically due to loss of a parent’s job or other circumstances. You will need to log in to the FAFSA portal and update anything that has changed due to estimating or amendments made to your tax returns.
You want to be considered independent of your parents for financial aid purposes due to a severed relationship or abusive situation. If you have extenuating circumstances in regard to your relationship with your parents, contact your financial aid office to clarify the situation and determine the dependency appeal process.
You didn’t receive a federal or state award you expected. If you believe you qualify for but didn’t receive a federal or state grant or scholarship, first determine if the award is automatically granted to all eligible applicants.

  • If you didn’t receive an automatic award, contact the agency responsible for administering it and notify your financial aid office.
  • If the award is not automatic, funds may not be available for all applicants. You may try contacting the agency administering the award to see if any remaining funds will be awarded later.
You didn’t receive an institutional award you expected. Not all awards are automatically granted to all eligible students. If you met the college’s priority deadline, contact the financial aid office to determine if any institutional awards are still available. If the award was offered by a specific department, ask a financial aid representative if the office has been made aware of the award.
A state or federal award was submitted to the wrong college. Contact the agency responsible for administering the award. Also notify your financial aid office and the financial aid office at the other institution of the mistake.
You received an award you didn’t expect. Many colleges consider your application for admission to also be your application for other institutional awards. If you feel you didn’t meet the qualifications for an award, contact the financial aid office to clarify.
A grant or scholarship awarded by an outside entity isn’t shown in your award packet. You need to tell your college about all grants and scholarships you receive. If an award is missing, contact the financial aid office.
You received a work-study award. This award may be dependent on you finding a work-study position and earning a paycheck based on hours actually worked. Start with the financial aid section on the college’s website. If that doesn’t contain information about how to locate and apply for work-study positions, contact the financial aid office.
You didn’t receive enough aid to pay for your costs of attendance. If you are significantly short of aid, you may need to consider:

  • Contacting the financial aid office to inform them of your situation and see if you qualify for any additional aid.
  • Working more to earn income to pay for your shortfall.
  • Asking about monthly payment plans.
  • Exploring less expensive education options, such as a public university or community college.
  • Relying on family to help with the cost of your education through gifts or federal PLUS Loans for parents.
  • Taking out private student loans to cover the remaining expenses.

By: Iowa Student Loan

10 Ways to Get Fit for Free (Infographic)

Download the infographic as a PDF.

With the new year often comes a resolution to lose weight, get in shape or otherwise improve health. Gym memberships, personal trainers and coaches are often outside the budget for students, however. The good news is that you have many options to get fit for free.

1. Walk instead of ride. Depending on your location, you may be able to walk to school, work and shops instead of driving the car or getting on a bus or train. Besides increased health benefits, you’ll save money on car maintenance, parking and fuel.

2. Use household items or public structures. Find a convenient set of stairs, track or trails to get in a good cardio workout. For strength training, start with a bottle of water and graduate to a bottle filled with sand; then move on to larger jugs as you get stronger. If you’d like to increase agility and flexibility, design your workout around park benches, playgrounds or even your living room furniture.

3. Search for free equipment. Start at home; you may have family members who have invested in machines, weights, mats, balls and other equipment and then abandoned them. You can also search or advertise on online sites like Craigslist or Freecycle for equipment that other people no longer want.

4. Download a fitness plan or app. If you need a structured schedule to stay on track or if you aren’t sure what you should do when, look online or in an app store. Free tools are available for all fitness levels and goals.

5. Mix it up. If you tend to get bored with a workout, search out free podcasts, TV shows and online videos or head to the library for videos and books. You can switch to another program easily as soon as you get tired of your current one, or vary your routines daily to avoid burnout.

6. Use student facilities and programs. If you’re a college student or a high school student taking college classes from a nearby campus, check out the athletic and recreation facilities. You may have free or nearly free access to classes, personal training, gyms, fields and courts. If you’re in high school, check with the coaches and administrators on open gym times, weight room availability and track policies.

7. Join a sports team. If you find it difficult to stay motivated on your own, consider joining a team. If you aren’t up to tryouts for a school team, look at intramural, community and amateur leagues. A desire to perform well in a game can help you stay motivated between games or seasons.

8. Become a friend of dogs. With today’s lifestyles, many pet owners would gladly allow a responsible student to walk, jog or play with their dogs on a regular basis. In fact, a lot of owners will pay students to do just that, so you can earn money while getting in some exercise.

9. Volunteer. Look for a volunteer opportunity that will allow you to get a good workout in on the job site. Communities often have home building and repair organizations, clean up committees and landscape crews that rely heavily on volunteers. If your community doesn’t have any, consider starting one or just help out your neighbors. Shoveling snow from several driveways or push-mowing a few lawns a week will keep you in shape.

10. Improve your diet. Free recipes and meal plans are widely available online to help you create a shopping list of healthful foods. If you’re unsure what type of dietary change is best for you, ask your family doctor at your next checkup or check for advice at the campus health clinic. You can also see if you can set up a free, no-obligation appointment with a nutritionist at your local grocery store. Weight loss centers also often offer a free initial consultation; just be sure you won’t have an obligation to pay for any future services when you make the appointment.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Use Winter Time to Search for Scholarships

When it’s cold outside and you feel stuck inside, a good way to pass the time is to focus on the future. And this time of year is perfect for scholarships. There are a lot of organizations and businesses that are opening up their scholarship applications now and you can get a lot accomplished.

  • Start with a general search and get organized.
    Outline the scholarships you qualify for by due date and then make a list of the requirements. Ask yourself: do you need essays, and what are the topics? Do you need letters of recommendation; how many and from who? Do you need a list of your accomplishments?
  • Make sure your activities resume is up-to-date.
    If you need to create one, visit ICANsucceed.org/materials and download the template from the resource zone. Having this list of your accomplishments well-organized is a great way to help those writing you recommendations.
  • Ask people to write you letters of recommendation.
    Provide these people a copy of your activities resume, along with anything specifically requested from the scholarship. If you need a general letter, mention that, but you can also ask for a letter that touches on specific things requested in the scholarship application guidelines. Be sure to give your letter writers plenty of time. A couple days is not enough. Try and give two to three weeks if possible.
  • Focus your time on the applications and essays.
    Some applications will have specific topics for your essay, while others will just ask for a personal statement. Make yourself stand out and be unique. Share your personality while following the guidelines provided. Your essay may be one of a hundred or more a scholarship review committee reads; you want to stand out and be remembered. Take your time and always have someone else read your essays and get feedback. Never submit your first draft.

Scholarships are a lot of work, but the payoff can be big if you take your time and really put in the effort. Remember a couple hours spent on a scholarship worth $500 could wind up paying you $250 per hour. That’s the best part-time job you could possibly find to help you pay for college.

If you need help with the scholarship process you can check out ICAN’s virtual presentation on the scholarship process. This video goes through searches, applications, essays and letter writing. Visit www.icansucceed.org/virtualpresentations to learn more. You can also begin your search for scholarships with the ICAN scholarship database: www.icansucceed.org/scholarships.

And finally, if you’re a senior, don’t forget to apply for the ICAN scholarship at www.icansucceed.org/ICANscholarship.

By: Iowa College Access Network

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