Applying for Aid - FAQ
What's in a financial aid package?
How do I apply for financial aid?
How is financial need determined?
What is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?
What is the Cost of Attendance (COA)?
What loans are available to students?
Completing the FAFSA
What is the FAFSA?
What is a FSA ID?
How is my EFC calculated?
What is an SAR?
What is FAFSA verification?
Where can I get help filling in the FAFSA?
Is there a deadline for completing the FAFSA?
What determines a student's "dependency" classification?
Who is a parent for FAFSA purposes?
What if my parents refuse to provide their financial information?
If my parents won't help pay for college, must I include their information?
What if my parents' tax returns don't reflect our current situation?
What are priority financial aid deadlines?
Why can't I print my SAR?
What are the most common errors in completing the FAFSA?
What's in a financial aid package? A package usually consist of various kinds of aid, including grants and scholarships (which don't have to be paid back), loans (which must be paid back), and earnings from campus employment. These are provided by the federal government, state government, or by the colleges themselves. Aid will be either need-based, which means it is based upon the student's family financial resources or merit-based, which considers a student's abilities and talents or a combination of both. The income cut off for need-based aid depends on the the government's and a school's own formulas. Merit-based aid is awarded by schools to the students they want to attract.
How do I apply for financial aid? A student must apply for financial aid, including that provided by the federal or state government, through the colleges he is applying to. Each school defines the process and applications that must be completed. Nearly all will require the student complete the federal government's FAFSA application . In addition to the aid package offered through the school, students can also apply for grants and scholarships through national and local sources. These are typically competitive and offered to students who belong to a certain group or have some special academic or other talent.
How is financial need determined? College aid offices base a student's aid package on his or her unmet need, which is calculated by subtracting the student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the school's Cost of Attendance (COA). The financial aid package they offer will fund anywhere from 0% to 100% of that unmet need. In no case can need-based aid cover what the school determines to be the student's and parents' expected contribution, so you must be prepared to pay a least that portion of the cost on your own or with the help of your family or relatives..
What is an Expected Family Contribution (EFC)? The EFC is a number generated from the information you submit on your FAFSA application. It will be displayed on your Student Aid Report (SAR.) It is the amount of money the family is expected to contribute to the student's education during the upcoming school year. Because of limitations on federal aid, this number will often be much larger than what a family feels they are able to contribute. This is a "one-year" number, so multiple times four to understand your minimum cost for four-year degree.
What is the Cost of Attendance (COA)? This is the student expense budget each college publishes each year. It includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation, and personal expenses. Some schools will include the cost of health insurance and computer costs. Check to see what the school has assumed in this number as you develop your own budget. You may need to add to this number to determine your true annual cost. But this number is important because it is the starting point for determining a student's need for financial aid purposes. It may or may not be adequate to cover all actual expenses, since this will vary based on a student's transportation costs, tastes and life style.
What loans are available to students? Do I need to have a credit history or good credit score to qualify? The federal government has created programs that make what are called Stafford or Direct Loans (schools use one program or another) available to all students, regardless of their credit rating. These are administered by the colleges, and students must file a FAFSA application and indicate interest in loans to be offered these loans. The amount a student can borrow each year is governed by law (now $5,500 for freshman, $6,500 for sophomores, and $7,500 for juniors and seniors.) Click for a summary we've prepared of these amounts or look at the federal government website.
Completing the FAFSA
What is the FAFSA? This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid that most students applying for financial aid or Stafford/Direct loans must complete. It is a free application, available at www.fafsa.gov. The information provided about students and their parents forms the basis for the amount of aid that will be provided by the federal and state governments, as well as many of the colleges. You can apply online or on paper, but we encourage you to apply online since it is faster and less prone to error. Some schools also require a student complete the CSS/Financial Aid profile, which requires the payment of an application fee. Be sure to review the specific requirements and deadlines for each school to which you are applying.
What is a FSA ID? In order to file a FAFSA application electronically, both the student AND the parent (if student if a dependent student) must acquire a FSA ID which is used as an electronic signature. You can apply for this PIN online. Don't delay in applying for it, so you won't miss a deadline.
How is my EFC calculated? The formula that determines your EFC is called the Federal Needs Methodology, and it is set and approved by Congress each year. The EFC includes a Parent Contribution and a Student Contribution. The main factors determining your EFC are the student's dependency status (i.e. dependent on his parents or independent), family size, number of family members in college, and income and asset levels for student and parents. It is essential that you report this information accurately. Use the FAFSA4caster or an EFC calculator available online to get a preview of your likely EFC. If you want to understand in detail how this number is calculated, the formula is published each year. A link is available on Quick Links on this page.
What is an SAR? This is the Student Aid Report (SAR) that is generated from the information you provide on your FAFSA. It will include your EFC in the upper right hand corner. It will be available online several days after you file your FAFSA if you apply online. Be sure to look for and review your SAR promptly after filing your FAFSA to ensure you have input all the data correctly. Your SAR will sometimes include notes about actions you are required to take to complete the processing of your application. This occurs when you have either omitted some information or provided conflicting information. The system will check social security numbers against names in the government's records, so any mismatches may give rise to issues that must be resolved. Be sure to resolve these issues as soon as possible, as you will not be considered for aid until you have a complete, error-free SAR.
What is FAFSA verification? A certain percentage of students will be selected by the system for verification of the information submitted. A financial aid administrator at one of the schools you are applying to will ask you to complete a verification worksheet and submit additional documentation to check that all the information you originally provided is correct. Be sure to respond promptly, because your SAR is not final until this verification has been completed. Most college will not give you aid until this process is completed, and you may lose funds you would otherwise get if you delay.
Where can I get help with the FAFSA? WE ARE HERE TO HELP! We realize that applying for college financial aid and filling out the FAFSA can be daunting, especially if you are the first in your family to go to college. It is very important that you and your parent(s) ask for help before you become discouraged or overwhelmed. We also know that you can't always get in to see a guidance counselor on short notice during the busiest time of the year. Feel free to call, email or to stop by the Scholarship Foundation office, and we will work with you to help resolve whatever issues you are having. We want you to succeed!
Is there a deadline for completing the FAFSA? The FAFSA system opens for applications on October 1 for the upcoming school year. While the FAFSA system remains open for applications until the very end of the school year (i.e. June 30, 2018 for the academic year 2017-2018), your school will have deadlines ("priority deadlines") after which your chances for getting the most financial aid will be reduced. These can be anywhere from early-February through March of the year you are applying. Make sure you know these deadlines.
What determines a student's dependency classification, i.e. whether a student is considered Independent or Dependent for financial aid purposes? The government has established strict rules for determining a student's dependency status (i.e. whether only the student's financial information is considered in determining his EFC or whether the parents' information is considered also.) The FAFSA website shows the Dependency Test Questions that determine your status. If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you will not have to provide your parents' information and will be considered "independent" for the purposes of federal government financial aid.
Who is a parent for FAFSA purposes? Unless you are determined to be an "Independent Student", you must include information about your parents. The FAFSA application gives detailed instructions for who is to be considered the parent(s) of a dependent student, and you must follow these rules. While some colleges will grant exceptions and allow other criteria for determing who is a parent, you must complete your FAFSA following the guidelines stated. These are also the rules Scholarship Foundation follows:
- Grandparents, foster parents and legal guardians are not considered parents on this form unless they have legally adopted you.
- If both of your parents are living and married to each other, answer the questions about them.
- If your parent is widowed or single, answer the questions about that parent.
- If your widowed parent is remarried as of today, answer the questions about that parent and the person to whom your parent is married (your stepparent). You must include the stepparent information even if that person is not going to be helping you pay for college.
- If your parents are divorced or separated, answer the questions about the parent you lived with more during the past 12 months.
- If you did not live with one parent more than the other, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent year that you actually received support from a parent. If this parent is remarried as of today, answer the questions about that parent and the person to whom your parent is married (your stepparent).
What if my parents refuse to provide any financial information? The FAFSA now includes a provision that allows students to appeal to a college financial administrator if they cannot locate their parent or the parent refuses to provide information. The FAFSA provides screening questions to determine who might qualify for this appeal, which requires very extraordinary circumstances.
If my parents won't help me pay for college, must I include their information? You must be classified as an "Independent Student" to be exempt from submitting your parent's financial information and having your EFC be based upon it. There are currently thirteen tests for determining Independent status. If you meet any of these, you will be considered independent. If not, you must supply your parent's information even if you don't expect them to help you pay. If your circumstances are very unusual, you should contact your school's financial aid office to register an appeal. They are allowed to overrule your dependency status determined by FAFSA rules in extraordinary circumstances.
What if my parents' tax returns don't reflect our current financial situation? You are required to complete the FAFSA using the tax return for what FAFSA calls the PRIOR, PRIOR year, i.e. if you are applying for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, you will use your 2016 tax return. The reason is that these returns will have been already completed by all applicant's by the time they are beginning to apply. If your family's situation has changed (e.g. lost job, reduced overtime, death of a parent) or you have other unusual financial circumstances that you feel are not captured by your FAFSA information, you should contact your school's Financial Aid office and follow their instructions for filing an appeal. Usually, this requires you to state the facts in writing. Most offices will have forms for you to complete to register an appeal. If they agree, they will adjust your EFC and your aid package accordingly. It does not hurt to ask for a review. If you do, be clear, organized and succint in presenting your situation. We are willing to help you understand whether you should consider an appeal and how to present your information.
What are priority financial aid deadlines? Many colleges have priority deadlines, i.e. dates by which a student must have completed his financial aid applications to be considered for all the types of aid the school has available. Apart from the federal government's Pell Grants and Stafford/Direct Loans, all other financial aid is limited. Colleges award this on a first-come, first-served basis to students whose applications are complete by their priority deadlines. Consult your schools to make sure you know whether they have these deadlines and when they are. Then make sure you get your paperwork in early, so that it will be complete and error-free by any priority deadlines.
Why can't I print my SAR? There can be several reasons for this. Contact our office if you need help.
What are the most common errors in completing the FAFSA? Most common errors can be avoided if you read the directions carefully. You must read the instructions carefully when completing this application. Click here for a link to some common errors summarized at the finaid.org website.