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Understanding Your Financial Aid Award & Bill

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Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter

When faced with multiple financial aid award letters from different colleges—each letter probably looking very different from one another—it can be difficult to figure out exactly how much aid is being offered, what portion of that aid (if any) is made up of loans that must be repaid, and what the bottom-line cost of college is after all financial aid is applied.

How do I compare “apples to apples” with award letters?

As you examine your financial aid award letters, look for terms that mean the same thing. Some examples include:

  • Scholarship, grant, gift, award: This is financial aid that does not need to be repaid.
  • Loan, borrowing, financing: This is financial aid that must be repaid.
  • Parent PLUS, parent loan: This is money that the student’s parents are expected to repay.
  • Student Federal Loan, Direct loan, Federal Direct loan: This is money that the student is expected to repay.
  • FWS Campus Job, Federal Work Study, Work Aid: This is an estimated amount of money you could earn at a campus job.

When you identify terms with common definitions, you can compare the amounts of different types of aid offered in each award letter.

What’s the difference between grants (or scholarships) and loans?

Financial aid award letters may contain grants (or scholarships), loans, or a combination of both types of financial aid. Grants or scholarships do not need to be repaid, while financial aid in the form of loans is money that does need to be repaid.

When you review award letters, identify how much money is in the form of grants or scholarships, and how much money is in the form of loans. All costs that are not covered by grants or scholarships will be your responsibility to pay.

Your financial aid award letter from Swarthmore will only include grants or scholarships and the expectation that you will work a part-time campus-based job. There will not be any loans included in your award letter, which means that you do not need to repay any of the financial aid that you receive from the College. Learn more about scholarships and grants that may be part of your financial aid award letter.

Although Swarthmore’s financial aid awards are loan-free, your family might choose to borrow a loan to pay a portion of the educational expenses. Learn more about ways to finance your family’s portion of the bill, which include a monthly payment plan, and parent and student loans.

What’s the difference between need-based and merit-based aid?

Financial aid can be need-based or merit-based. Need-based aid is related to the level of your family’s financial need as determined from your financial aid application. Merit-based aid is related to your achievements and/or academic performance.

Swarthmore’s financial aid is almost exclusively need-based financial aid, and the amount is determined based on the information you provide in your financial aid application. Swarthmore students submit financial aid applications for need-based aid on an annual basis; the Financial Aid Office analyzes the data in the application each year and provides an award letter based on the student’s determined need for that year. Swarthmore’s need-based aid may increase or decrease depending on a variety of factors. Please note that some institutions do not re-evaluate students’ financial need in subsequent years. It is helpful to find out what the policy is at each school that offers you need-based financial aid regarding whether the amount offered could increase or decrease from year to year.

The McCabe Award, which is given each year to seven first-year students, is Swarthmore’s only merit scholarship. It can be helpful to find out what policies exist regarding merit scholarships at each school that offers you an award.

Please note that financial aid award letters from other colleges may include both need-based and merit aid. In addition, both need-based and merit aid could be offered in grant form, as a loan you will need to repay, or in some combination of types. It is important to understand what part of your aid award you are expected to repay, regardless of whether the financial aid is being offered based on your financial need or on merit. All of Swarthmore’s financial aid (need-based and merit-based) is provided in grant form.

What about work aid?

Your financial aid award letters may include an allowance for work study, sometimes called Federal Work Study (FWS), work aid, or a campus job. The amount listed may vary from college to college. This money is what you could be expected to earn by working a part-time campus-based job.

Work aid means that you are considered to be a "work aided" student, and that you may be given some priority by hiring supervisors or departments. Work aid in your financial aid award letter is money that has yet to be earned, presuming you are willing and able to find a campus job and work toward earning that amount over the course of the school year. The money you earn will be paid directly to you via direct deposit to your bank account; the funds can be used by you for whatever purpose you wish, including non-billed costs such as additional academic supplies, transportation, and personal supplies. The amount of work aid listed in your financial aid award letter is not money you will have available at the beginning of the academic year, so you should plan to have some funds readily available to you in order to begin the school year.

Learn more about campus jobs.


Understanding Your Swarthmore College Bill

Students must pay their College bills in order to register for classes and housing and remain in good standing with their student account.

Your Swarthmore bill consists of billed costs, such as tuition (including books), student activity fee, housing, and food (meal plan). Swarthmore neither bills you for nor pays for non-billed costs, such as your supplies, personal expenses, or travel; those expenses vary from student to student and are paid for by each student individually. However, your financial aid award letter includes some estimates of non-billed costs.

Paying for billed costs

To understand how much you will owe to the College for billed costs after your financial aid is considered, subtract the scholarship or grant aid in your financial aid award letter from the “total billed cost” (annual cost of tuition, fees, housing, and food) as listed in your award letter.  The result of this subtraction is what you owe to the College, or your “student account balance.”  Note: The cost of tuition now includes a $790 allowance for all students to help cover the cost of required course materials. 

Swarthmore bills are issued twice a year via MySwarthmore; fall semester costs are billed in July, and spring semester costs are billed in December. Your bill will show College and federal funds as deductions. Funds from outside scholarships (such as community or state scholarships/grants) will not be reflected on your bill; you may deduct half of those amounts from the bill for the semester, in anticipation of the funds reaching the College, but your bill will not reflect these amount as credits until the College receives them. Funds in excess of the College bill will be refunded to you. If you receive Swarthmore financial aid, one half of the annual amount will be applied to your bill at the beginning of each semester.  

If your parents are involved in paying your Swarthmore bill, follow instructions on the Student Accounts website to arrange for their access.

Paying for non-billed costs

Non-billed costs include items such as travel between Swarthmore and your home, academic supplies, and personal items. These costs vary according to each student’s specific situation. Students pay for non-billed costs directly, and on an individual basis (such as purchasing toiletries from a local pharmacy) using one or more of the following sources:

  • Your parents' financial resources (such as income and assets)
  • Your own resources (such as money saved from a summer job)  
  • Your work aid in your financial aid award letter (which you must earn first)
  • Student and/or parent loans (which are not included in your award letter)

For more information about paying your bill, please refer to Swarthmore’s Financial Aid Handbook found on our Common Questions website.