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Financial Aid Award Letter Abbreviations and Terms You Should Know

Can't decipher the award letter from your school's financial aid office? Here are some of the most commonly used abbreviations and what they stand for.

Know your loan lingo

There are, unfortunately, a number of different naming conventions for standard federal student loans—and sometimes it feels like every school chooses different ones.

The classic student loan is the federal Stafford Loan taken out through the Direct Loans program (which is, essentially, the Department of Education).

These loans come in two types:

  1. Subsidized, which are need-based and do NOT accrue interest while you're in school, and
  2. Unsubsidized,  which are not need-based and DO accrue interest while you're in school.

On an award letter, it's common to see a student loan referred to as a Stafford Loan, a Direct Loan, a subsidized loan, or unsubsidized loan.

You may have also seen these loan abbreviations on your financial aid award letter:

  • Stffd for Stafford
  • Unsub/sub for unsubsidized and subsidized loans
  • Ln or even L. instead of loan

Other loan types

In addition to traditional federal student loans, you may also be offered a Perkins Loan and/or a Parent PLUS Loan.

Perkins loans are another type of need-based loan while Parent PLUS loans, as the name suggests, are taken out by the parents of dependent students.

Perkins loans are typically listed by their full name, unless abbreviated to Perkins ln

Parent loans may be called Parent PLUS loans, parent loans or simply PLUS Loans.  

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Other abbreviations

While schools try to make their award letters accessible to the average reader, you may come across some standard abbreviations.

Scholarship is sometimes shortened to sch

Work-study may be listed as WS or FWS for federal work-study.

Terms to watch out for

Some terminology is even harder to decipher—mainly because it can be hard to know how the school arrived at the the number. 

For example, instead of breaking costs into obvious categories like tuition and housing, some schools use other distinctions.

Some refer to those costs as either direct or indirect costs.

Likewise, some schools list work-study and student loans together in one group as self-help aid.

Best advice: If it's not clear how your school arrived at a number, contact the financial aid office for clarification.

See also: 3 Major Things Your Financial Aid Award Letter Won't Tell You

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