Laws & Guidance HIGHER EDUCATION
Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

This Web page provides students, families and institutions with resources and background about the development and adoption of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. The Shopping Sheet was previously referred to as the Model Financial Aid Offer Form and Know Before You Owe.

The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet (PDF) is a consumer tool that participating institutions will use to notify students about their financial aid package. It is a standardized form that is designed to simplify the information that prospective students receive about costs and financial aid so that they can easily compare institutions and make informed decisions about where to attend school. The Shopping Sheet became available for use beginning in the 2013-2014 award year.

In July 2012, the Obama Administration unveiled the 2013-2014 version of the Shopping Sheet. At the same time, Education Secretary Arne Duncan published an open letter to college and university presidents asking institutions to adopt the Shopping Sheet for use during the 2013-2014 school year. On December 13, 2013, the Department released the 2014-2015 edition of the Shopping Sheet. As of December 2013, over 1,950 institutions have voluntarily adopted the Shopping Sheet, representing institutions nationwide from all sectors of higher education.

Institutions may contact ShoppingSheet@ed.gov to indicate their commitment to use the Shopping Sheet. Students, parents, and institutions may also direct questions about the Shopping Sheet to that e-mail address.

Shopping Sheet Documents

Development of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 focused attention on communicating aid offers to prospective students with the goal of helping families make informed decisions about college. The HEOA required the Secretary to hold a public meeting so that interested parties could discuss improvements and offer recommendations. The HEOA also required the Department to develop and distribute a model aid offer format to institutions. The legislation and conference report language give additional details.

The following entries describe the Department’s work on the Shopping Sheet. Check back to see what’s new.

November 2012 Update: Three update sessions on the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet are scheduled for the 2012 Federal Student Aid conference, held from November 26-30, in Orlando, Florida.

September 2012 Update: In September, the Department released several Electronic Announcements describing additional Shopping Sheet implementation details, including the HTML code to be used to produce the Shopping Sheet. Secretary Arne Duncan reported on the progress to encourage institutions to use the Shopping Sheet in a September 25 blog entry.

August 2012 Update: On July 24, 2012, Secretary Arne Duncan posted an open letter to college presidents asking for voluntary adoption of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. On July 25, Acting Assistant Secretary David A. Bergeron sent a Dear Colleague Letter (PDF) to financial aid administrators, releasing the Shopping Sheet format and requesting institutional commitment to use this format. In addition, an annotated copy of the Shopping Sheet has been posted to the Model Financial Aid Offer Form web page and will be updated as needed. We are working with software providers to discuss how they can help institutions produce the Shopping Sheet. We hope to release more details about this next month. Please contact ShoppingSheet@ed.gov to indicate institutional commitment to use the Shopping Sheet. You may also direct questions about the Shopping Sheet to that e-mail address.

June 2012 Update: With the help of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau), ED collected comments from the public on how to improve aid offer forms. The period for submitting feedback on the "thought starter" format on the Bureau's site ended June 20. ED is in the final stages of the project and hopes to release the model format in coming months. For additional information, contact Marty Guthrie at Marty.Guthrie@ed.gov or Carney McCullough at Carney.McCullough@ed.gov.

May 2012 Update: OPE continues to work on the model aid offer requirement. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) shared a summary of comments it received on the "thought starter" format. Instead of posting a revised version on the Bureau's Web site as originally planned, OPE staff will use the "thought starter" comments along with additional feedback from the FSA conference to develop a model aid offer format for institutions. The Bureau posted a cost comparison tool on its site at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/payingforcollege/. We encourage you to visit this site and offer any comments you may have. We continue to work closely with Bureau staff on the model aid offer requirement, with the goal of issuing a model aid offer format in the spring of 2012 for potential use by institutions of higher education during the 2013-14 award year.

2011 FSA Conference Update: OPE staff were pleased to have the opportunity to speak to nearly 1,200 financial aid professionals about our activities related to the model aid offer requirement during two interest sessions at the recent Federal Student Aid Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many participants offered comments at the sessions and others sent follow-up letters afterward. Using this feedback, we continue to work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to revise the "thought-starter" format, with the plan that a revised version will be posted on the Bureau's Web site in January, 2012. Ultimately, our goal remains to issue a model aid offer format in the spring of 2012 for potential use by institutions during the 2013-14 award year.

October 2011 Update: On October 26, 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the Bureau) is taking feedback on a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet—an effort to improve the financial aid offer form—and is especially looking for input from current and prospective college students and their families.

The development of the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet builds on the discussion at the Department of Education’s September 13, 2011 public meeting. It is a product of the important partnership being forged between the Bureau and the Department of Education (the Department), which we believe will result in students and borrowers being better served. It will be announced at a roundtable event in Minneapolis, Minnesota and discussed at a town hall meeting, also in Minneapolis.

The Shopping Sheet is a part of the Bureau’s "Know Before You Owe" effort and is a tool that colleges and universities could use to help students better understand the types and amounts of aid they qualify for and easily compare aid packages offered by different institutions. The form would also make clear the total costs -- and risks -- of student loans before a student enrolls and is a "thought-starter," not an official proposal. See the shopping sheet on the Bureau’s Web site, which also provides instructions on how to offer comments: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/students/knowbeforeyouowe/.

The effort is also a part of the Department’s ongoing work to fulfill the requirement in the Higher Education Opportunity Act to recommend improvements to the student financial aid offer forms.

2011 Public Meeting: As announced in the July 29, 2011 Federal Register notice, the public meeting to discuss improvements to student financial aid offer forms took place on September 13, 2011 with more than 50 individuals in attendance. During the morning session, after the Department presented an overview of the activity, panelists discussed their views on student financial aid award letters. Panelists included (in alphabetical order): Justin Draeger, (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), David Hawkins (National Association for College Admission Counseling), Mark Kantrowitz (FinAid and FastWeb), Nina Marks (Collegiate Directions, Inc.), and Matthew Reed (The Institute for College Access and Success).

During the afternoon session, attendees participated in small group discussions to consider several questions and to try their hand at designing a model aid form. The questions for discussion were as follows: (1) What is the primary function of an aid offer form: comparing schools or understanding what a student will pay and what options are available to pay? (2) What are the critical core components? (3) What would help families understand costs and financing options? (4) Can one format be used by all types of schools?

OPE staff are reviewing the comments and feedback we received at the meeting in preparation for our next steps.

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Last Modified: 01/23/2014