Understanding Your Financial Aid Package

Financial Aid Package

You’ve sent in your applications, filled out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), interviewed with schools and kept your grades up. Now, with graduation quickly approaching, it’s time to finalize your post-secondary education decision. Given that part of your decision will be based on your ability to cover the cost of tuition at your school of choice, understanding your financial aid package is critical.


When you filled out your FAFSA, you identified schools to which you had applied. Those schools have access to the information that you provided one day after the application is processed. They use this information to create your financial aid package. This package is then sent to you directly from the schools themselves. Each school will provide its own financial aid package, although some may do so by mail and others may use an online portal.


The package will help you and your family better understand your options from a financial perspective. It outlines the total financial aid assistance that you can expect, including:


  • Grants. This is money that you are not required to pay back to either the government or the school from which it is offered. The amount of a grant is typically based on your level of financial need.
  • Scholarships. Like grants, scholarships do not have to be paid back. What makes them different is that they often have some sort of need-based or merit-based requirement, such as good grades, special abilities, or even being from out-of-state. While many schools offer scholarships to incoming students, those are not your only options! Keep in mind that there are scholarships offered by organizations and groups other than the school of your choice. Be sure to investigate all your scholarship options at CFNC.org!
  • Loans. Loans must be paid back. It may seem simple, but sometimes students and families are tripped up when don’t pay close attention to the terms of the financial aid package. When you or your parents agree to accept loan money, you do so with the understanding that you will pay back the amount borrowed beginning after graduation. Be sure to fully understand the terms of the loan before accepting it.
  • Work Study. Work study money is allocated to the student, but not immediately applied to the college bill. Instead, it offers the student the opportunity to find work while in college. The student is paid as the work is completed, but can only earn the amount specified in the financial aid package.


When the school presents your financial aid package, it will often break down the aid by semester so that you and your family can have a good understanding of how much help you might receive and what your expected family contribution is each step of the way.


Certainly, the cost of college can feel a little overwhelming at the onset. Fortunately, your financial aid package will help you figure out how to pay for college in a way that works for you and your family. Free information about financial aid is available online or by calling College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) at 866-866-2362. Additionally, your college’s financial aid office should be able to answer questions that are specific to your personal circumstances.