Tips for Decoding Your Financial Aid Letter

Last week, we spoke about how important it was to dissect your financial aid award letters. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done due to the singular fact that they are written to be indecipherable.

decodingTherefore, the team at Hauk Kruse & Associates has done some research on your behalf. In our research, we came across an excellent Forbes article which maps out the 10 rules for decoding college financial aid award letters. Below, are the top 3 rules we believe to be most important. Please feel free to read the full article by Maggie McGrath here.

1. Your financial aid award isn’t necessarily all a gift.

While your financial aid letter may state a number associated with your “total aid award”, you need to make sure you read the entire letter. Normally loans have been mixed in with your scholarships and grants. This is where decoding skills come in handy.

Most of the time, the loans won’t jump out at you. These letters normally do not include interest rates, monthly payment schedules, or even the word “loan”. Look out for abbreviations such as “Fed Staff L” (Federal Stafford Loan), “Sub” (subsidized loan), and “Unsub” (unsubsidized loan).

Sample Letter

2.The “work study” amount is not guaranteed income.

As noted in the example above, often the “total award amount” does not just consist of grants and loans, but also of federal work study opportunities. Even though the letter may list a certain amount, it is not guaranteed. First, you have to get the job – which come on a first come, first served basis (act fast!). Then, you have to work the hours. And unfortunately, the amount of money listed in your letter isn’t always going to be the amount you receive.

3. Don’t take the school at face value for expenses.

Your school may give you an estimate of what they believe your expenses (books, supplies, travel from home to school, etc.), but it is not always correct. These estimates have been known to be a lot less than actual expenses. Therefore, you should budget according to your situation, not the school’s estimates.

If you have any questions on financial aid or need help with your FASFA, please call our office at 314-993-4285 or e-mail us at


5 Ways to Avoid Financial Aid Surprises

Tuition Up

College is a wonderful part of every young person’s life: it is where their passions are discovered and honed, where they make life-lasting friendships, where many meet their future spouse, and where they are shaped into the person that they were always meant to be.

Unfortunately colleges are both a business and, nowadays, a necessity. These two facts mean that colleges can up their fees and lower their aid with little or no consequences.

More often than not, colleges convince students to choose them by offering grants, discounts, and scholarships and then up their tuition and lower their aid each year.

So how do colleges get away with this?

  • Colleges normally issue “need based” scholarships. Meaning they only give the scholarships to those students whose family makes below a certain income.
  • The average American family goes through the same changes during a student’s college years:
    – one child in the family graduates from college
    – one parent gets a raise, second job, bonus, or promotion
    These two changes mean “higher income” for the family in the eyes of FASFA, meaning colleges can lower or eliminate their aid.

While this information may be disheartening, there are a few steps you can take to prevent this from happening to you.

1. Learn all you can regarding financial aid methodology.

It is important to learn how your family’s current and future circumstances effect financial aid, for example:

  • having multiple kids in college vs. one kid in college
  • retirement vs. non-retirement savings
  • divorce
  • remarriage
  • promotions
  • raises

This way you won’t have any surprises.

Troy Onink and Mark Kantrowitz have written excellent sources to start your financial aid research.

2. Carefully read your initial financial aid letter, making sure to understand every aspect of it.

It is important you understand two things when reading you financial aid letter:

  • How much money you are getting via grant, loan, and work/study money.
    – These are often presented together as one large sum.
  • If you are getting merit-based (you need a certain GPA to get the money) or need-based financial aid.

3. Research your college options to see their financial aid practices.

Using, you can view how much money colleges grant freshman versus how much money they grant all undergraduates (keep in mind this number includes freshman as well). This will give you an idea as to whether or not your college choices drop/lower financial aid as students become sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

4. Apply for scholarships and grants from outside programs every year.

If your college allows outside financial aid (without eliminating or reducing the aid they are giving you), you should apply for it as well. Keep in mind that they aren’t all just for freshman, so you can apply for financial aid throughout all four years of your college career. Remember that every scholarship or grant is more free money for you and free money is never a bad option.

5. Plan for tuition increases.

Tuition will always increase… while financial aid most likely will not. Therefore, you need to plan for a steady increase in payments over your four years.

If you would like to read more in-depth information, please read the Forbes article “How to Avoid the Disappearing College Financial Aid Trap”. If you have questions regarding these tips, financial aid, or FASFA, please call our office at 314-993-4285 or email us at


5 Things to Keep In Mind When Applying for College Financial Aid


1. File for financial aid as soon as possible after January 1st.

While the deadline for applying for financial aid isn’t until June 30th, there are several reasons why you should apply for financial aid ASAP:

  • Several states and many colleges have deadlines earlier than June 30th.
  • Several states award grants on first come, first serve basis until the funds deplete.
  • Many colleges award scholarships on first come, first serve basis as well.
  • Some colleges award more generous financial aid packages to students who apply earlier.

To view a complete list of state deadlines, click here.

2. Consider other financial aid sources.

The FASFA isn’t the only route you can go for financial aid. Make sure your student applies for outside scholarships and merit-based scholarships. Also, consider education tax benefits and private students loans.

3. Apply for financial aid every year, even if you weren’t awarded any the year(s) before.

The formulas used to determine financial aid amounts are very complicated and even the slightest change in family income or situation can cause a bump in the amount awarded to your student.

Some examples of factors that can have an impact on financial aid eligibility includes:

  • The number of children a family has enrolled in college
  • The student’s income, assets, and capital gains
  • The family’s income, assets, and capital gains
  • Marital status
  • Bonuses
  • Household size

4. Request a professional judgement review.

If you are going through an unusual situation, you can contact the college financial aid office and request a professional judgement review. You will be able to provide documentation and reasoning why your child requires more financial aid.

5. Lastly, know that Hauk Kruse & Associates can help you complete the FASFA.

We know that the FASFA is a difficult, time-consuming, bothersome thing to complete. If you have any problems filling it out, you can always ask us for help – it’s what we’re here for.

If you have any questions or would like help completing the FASFA, please feel free to call our office at 314-993-4285 or email us at

The Truth About “Need-Aware” Colleges.

In 2013, The George Washington University publicly admitted that they are a “need-aware” college. In other words, they factor in an applicant’s need for financial aid when need-blinddeciding if they will admit that applicant to their institution. Understandably, this revelation caused an uproar among students and their parents. While some had strong words for colleges, others scurried to try and foot the entire bill for their student’s college tuition.

Fortunately for colleges and students around the world, “need-aware” isn’t as bad as it sounds. Kal Chany, the author of the Princeton Review’s Paying for College Without Going Broke, explained the truth behind “need-aware” institutions and how it differs from those that are “need-blind”.

The first step is to realize that “need-aware” does not mean that colleges are going to first accept all the children who don’t need financial aid and then everyone else. When a college institution is “need-aware”, financial need is only one factor – and this one factor normally only comes into play for students who are high-need and we’re the strongest candidates.

With this in mind, there is really no need to worry about whether the college your student is applying to is “need-aware” or “need-blind”. As long as your student is applying to colleges in which he/she is in the top 20%, there should really be no need for the financial factor to come into play.

If you would like to read more about this, check out the Forbes article “Does Applying for Financial Aid Hurt Your College Admissions Chances?”. If you have any questions financial aid or the FASFA, please call our office at 314-993-4285 or e-mail us at