October 22nd, 2010
by Scott Anderson
Preliminary Award Letters typically show up with the notification of acceptance for admission to the college or shortly thereafter. They will typically say something like “Congratulations. Because of your excellent performance, we are honored to award you the President’s Special Scholar Award of $40,000.”
$40,000! You just hit the jackpot!
No… I don’t want to make light of the monies that the colleges are going to offer you, but you need to understand what these letters are and how they are written. These offers are most often based upon arbitrary academic indicators such as the student’s GPA, Class Rank, or Standardized Test Scores (ACT or SAT). Quite often, Colleges will have a set schedule of awards for particular performance. Such as if a student has a 26 on their ACT, the school would give the student $2,000. If the student has a 28 on their ACT, the school would give them $5,000; and so on.
These letters are also written in a way to make the offer appear as large as possible and increase the “wow” factor. Keep in mind, you have been accepted to the college, now the college is trying to get you to commit. The $40,000 in the above example is $10,000 per year over the next four years. It is not $40,000 per year or $40,000 up front. It would be one heck of an offer, but colleges do not give signing bonuses.
Preliminary awards are just that… they are preliminary. They are what the college knows they can offer up front before any of the financial paperwork is filed. As such, they most often become part of the Official Financial Offer after all the financial paperwork is processed. In some instances, the preliminary offer may only be one-half, one-third, or even one-quarter or less of the Official Financial Offer. There could be much more money coming.