Interpreting Financial Aid Offers

Hello everyone! My name is Jerry Goss and I’m a sophomore at Olin College of Engineering. I also happen to be the Financial Wellness Ambassador on campus that’s authoring this blog post!

Financial aid is quite an interesting thing to process and interpret. There are a lot of hurdles that can come up with financial aid. Such as when debt becomes involved, but foresight and being financially conscious can help a lot. And then adding parents into the mix can make it easier or harder, and that’s not the same for everyone. But financial aid is in general here to help you, and this blog post is going to be about how to make the most of it now that you’ve been admitted and received your financial aid offers.

A big thing about the financial aid interpretation process is that you shouldn’t compare apples to oranges, because apples reek and oranges are great, especially when they’re called “Halos” or “Cuties.” But realistically, schools are different; the prices, quality of education, quality of experience, graduate outcomes, and your fit there, will all differ. If an apple tastes better than an orange, even though I’m not a fan of apples (despite having an apple juice/cider obsession), then would I choose the less expensive apple over the more expensive orange? Probably, because the apple tastes better. But you might not want to do that with colleges. Basing your college decisions off a comparison between things that can’t really be compared (beyond personal preference) isn’t ideal. You should weigh them on your own scale and compare the financial aid between them. For example, is a certain school worth paying an extra $10,000 to get an experience you desire?

Colleges are going to have all the terms they use to evaluate their costs and distribute aid, and they’re relatively consistent. Loan means loan and scholarship means scholarship. But in this blog, I’d like to share a little bit more detail about those terms, specifically in regard to what Olin uses. 

Scholarships: Scholarships are sums of money, generally given to scholars based on merit to pursue education, and often with requirements for participation or engagement.  

  • Olin Tuition Scholarship: This is a scholarship that all Olin students receive and is something that DOES NOT need to be paid back. Free money. This is meant to help you pay for college and in Olin’s case, that means that the tuition is cut in half (other schools may have various types of scholarships that you can apply for or automatically be awarded). But I’m sure you knew that already, considering you’re here.
  • Outside Scholarships: You may have a program or resource that you received a scholarship from and your school will incorporate it into your financial aid offer once you report it to them (which you are required to do).

Grants: Grants are need-based awards.

  • Olin Need-Based Grant: This is a grant, which also DOES NOT need to be paid back. Free money, again.
  • Federal Pell Grant: A federal (government affiliated) form of financial aid that is given to those who display “exceptional” financial need. You can read about it on and the amounts vary up to around $6,000 depending on the level of need.

Loans: Loans are lumps of money handed to qualifying customers who will pay it back, as well as any added fees and interest. 

  • Subsidized Loans: For a loan to be subsidized (by the federal government), that means that there is no interest charged to you while you are enrolled in your college or university; the government will pay the interest for you while you’re in school. That way you can start paying it back after leaving campus (plus a 6-month grace period), and start with the base amount.
  • Unsubsidized Loans: In the case of colleges and universities, unsubsidized means that the amount you owe will grow with interest (although you still don’t have to make payments while in school or during the 6-month grace period). When you start paying it back after leaving college, it will be noticeably larger than the amount borrowed.

Something you should feel better about is that 8 out of 10 families tend to receive financial aid, which is more than I’d expect (and at Olin, every student receives financial aid). So, you likely have a little bit of cushion from the growing costs associated with college.

Thanks for reading! If you have questions, you can contact Olin's Financial Aid Office at Happy college decision season and I’m sorry that this coronavirus thing is happening to the world right now.