The College Financing Plan

This Web page provides students, families and institutions with information about the College Financing Plan. The College Financing Plan has been previously referred to as the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, Model Financial Aid Offer Form, and Know Before You Owe..

The College Financing Plan is a consumer tool that participating institutions 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 College Financing Plan became available for use beginning in the 2013-2014 award year.

In July 2012, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released the College Financing Plan (formerly known as the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet) format and asked institutions to voluntarily commit to using the College Financing Plan to supply financial aid information to students in a way that can be understood and compared easily.

Last year, the Department released both a traditional template and a Responsive Preview, with features and improvements we wanted to test and on which we sought feedback. Working with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), we have received valuable input from financial aid administrators, students, parents, and other stakeholders that we have used to make improvements to last year’s Responsive Preview in order to finalize a single template for 2020-2021. We have also reviewed the NASFAA report No Clear Winner: Consumer Testing of Financial Aid Award Letters.

As a result, we kept many of the features of the Responsive Preview, while making other improvements based on feedback. For the final 2020-2021 version, the Department:

  1. Changed the name of the template from Financial Aid Shopping Sheet to College Financing Plan to more accurately reflect that loans may be a significant part of the student’s investment, and to emphasize to students that they are making a significant financial transaction with long-term implications when enrolling in an institution.
  2. Added more transparency for students so that they know the interest rate they will pay on each loan; have more detail about need-based and merit-based scholarships and grants available; can compare on-campus and off-campus living arrangements; and are provided with a clear distinction between loans, which must be repaid, and grants and other aid that do not need to be repaid.
  3. Simplified the language and format, removing elements that add clutter, are unnecessarily complex, or are not seen by students to be relevant or valuable to the decisions they must make about how to finance their education.

The Department released the final version of the College Financing Plan template this year.

Each of the components institutions need to complete institutional College Financing Plans are available below, including the HTML specifications file, technical guide, and a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

The format of the College Financing Plan has also been updated for 2020-2021 to include additional data elements, a new responsive design, and the ability to customize the colors of the College Financing Plan to match those of your institution.
HTML Specifications:

Institutions and their software providers may use the attached HTML specifications to produce and populate the College Financing Plan, using the applicable fields from their existing data systems. The HTML specifications include a “download” button on the College Financing Plan so that students may save their student aid offer information in XML, a machine-readable format. This XML layout is also attached. We encourage institutions providing students with their College Financing Plan in electronic format to include this feature. I

Institutions delivering the College Financing Plan in print form may remove the “download” button.
For convenience, a PDF version of the College Financing Plan is also attached.

Questions may be directed to collegefinancingplan@ed.gov


2020-21 Annotated College Financing Plan [PDF, 1.57MB]
2020-21 College Financing Plan FAQ [PDF, 256KB]
2020-21 College Financing Plan Template [PDF, 112KB]
2020-21 College Financing Plan Technical Guide [PDF, 1.44MB]
HTML Specification [ZIP, 11KB]



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Last Modified: 09/16/2019