Drew Sottardi

Demystifying Financial Aid Letters

Financial aid letters don't need to be so confusing

Colleges and universities create all sorts of things for prospective students: glossy viewbooks, catchy videos, shiny swag, and more. They spend huge amounts of time (and money) on these items to tell people, “You’ll love it here!”

But when it comes to the financial aid letter—arguably the most important thing you can give a prospective student—many colleges and universities drop the ball. Their messaging goes from “Everything is awesome!” to “Good luck figuring this stuff out.”

If you’ve ever looked at a financial aid letter, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Most of them are a mess. They’re a collection of seemingly random numbers, instructions that make no sense, and enough double-speak to make your head hurt. And they do little to help families understand the real cost of college.

Consistently confusing

The problem is widespread. Last year, researchers from New America and uAspire published a report that analyzed 515 financial aid letters from schools across the country. Their findings show that these letters are consistently confusing and misleading.

They don’t have to be.

The U.S. Department of Education created a “Shopping Sheet” template in 2012 to help schools create clearer, more consistent financial aid letters. The template is far from perfect, but it’s much easier for families to understand than the typical letters most schools send.

Still, the New America/uAspire study found that fewer than half of colleges receiving federal funds use the Shopping Sheet. That’s a problem—which led us to create a solution.

The easy answer

We developed an easy-to-understand financial aid brochure and letter so schools can tell incoming students exactly how much they’ll have to pay for college in the upcoming year. It goes through expenses line by line and clearly explains the difference between grants and scholarships (which don’t have to be paid back) and loans (which do). And the letter can be merged with a school’s financial aid data base to create a custom report for every student.

At a time when families are asking hard questions about the cost of college, shouldn’t your financial aid letter provide them with easy answers?

We think so. And we’d love to work with you to make that happen.

Still here, huh? While we have you, check out another great post from Drew Sottardi: Write to be Read