If you have a high school senior or a child already in college, chances are that soon you will start receiving financial aid offers from colleges and universities. These offers or financial aid award letters are sent by each school’s financial aid office to current and prospective students who filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These offers illustrate the amount of financial aid your student will be eligible for in the upcoming academic year.

When it comes to financial aid, there is no one size fits all solution. Families might be confused trying to figure out which offer is best for them. Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College 2020” shows that only 25% of those who received and offer letter found all of the components easy to understand.

In order to help students and families evaluate their options, Sallie Mae is providing tips and resources to help navigate this very important decision.

Get Organized
Create a spreadsheet in order to compare and keep track of a school’s cost of attendance (COA), the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the details of the financial aid offer including any scholarships, grants, work-study or federal student loans.

Understand the Lingo
Schools may use different terms for the same thing. For example, you might see federal loans listed as a “federal direct unsubsidized loan,” “federal loan,” a “direct loan,” “direct unsub,” or even just “L.” Make sure you understand everything that is being offered and contact the school’s financial aid office if you need anything clarified.

Negotiate Your Offer
If your financial situation has changed call your school’s financial aid office. They may be able to reevaluate your offer. Last year, of those who received financial aid offers, 24% appealed for more aid, and 67% were granted more scholarships, grants, work-study, or other forms of aid.

Accept Only What You Need
You are not required to accept everything that is included within your financial aid offer. After you have established your plan to pay for college, only accept the types and amounts of aid you need and make sure you reply before the deadline.

Read the Fine Print
Most importantly, pay attention to the fine print. Make sure you complete and submit any required documents on time. Missing a deadline could negatively affect aid eligibility.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made financial aid offers more important for families, and while the process of receiving them hasn’t changed, students’ approach to comparing them just might,” said Jen O’Donald, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “Since college is often the first big investment a student makes, they should be empowered to shop around — comparing their offers from different schools to determine which provides the best deal.”