I probably don’t qualify for aid. Should I apply anyway?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Students and their families sometimes mistakenly think that they don’t qualify for financial aid and prevent themselves from receiving it by failing to apply. In addition, there are a few sources of financial aid such as unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans that are available regardless of need, but to be considered for these loans, you must first fill out the FAFSA. In addition, some merit based aid such as scholarships require the FAFSA. The FAFSA form is free, so, take advantage of the opportunity it may offer you. You risk nothing if you complete and submit the form, and you may find that you qualify for financial assistance that you never expected.
Do all schools offer federal financial aid?
No. The school must be accredited by an agency recognized by the Secretary of Education and eligible to participate in federal student aid programs.
Where should I go to look for aid?
Financial Aid Administrator’s (FAA’s) Office at the colleges in which you’re interested
The Guidance Counselor’s Office is the place to start for high school students.
Information and no-cost scholarship searches are available on the World Wide Web.
Public Libraries are also a good source for publications on financial aid, grants, and even computer search programs for scholarships.
Check private sources of scholarships or grants in your community.
Contact employers of parents, students, other relatives, professional associations, foundations and civic groups.
What kinds of aid are there?
There are two types of financial aid. One is called merit-based aid. Merit based aid doesn’t have anything to do with your family’s finances. It is awarded based on how good you are at something, like music, science, or athletics. Scholarships are usually an example of merit-based aid. Merit-based aid usually doesn’t have to be paid back, though sometimes there are restrictions or conditions on the award.
The other type is called need based aid. The amount of need-based aid you receive depends on how much you and your family can afford to pay towards your educational expenses. Generally, both students and their families are expected to help pay. This amount you and your family should be able to pay is called the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC.
Are there tax benefits that can help?
Education tax credits, like the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, are available to individuals and families who file a tax return and have a tax liability. Tax credits are subtracted from the tax liability of an individual or family. To learn more about education tax credits, see the Parent and Student Guide to Federal Tax Benefits for Tuition and Fees on the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) website.
What benefits are available to me as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces?
The military offers the following educational programs and ways to pay for school or reduce your costs:
You can attend on of the military academies. These are four-year colleges that are tuition-free and offer a bachelor’s degree and a commission in the military after graduation.
You can attend a college or career school and enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program, which will pay your tuition, fees and books and provide you with a monthly allowance. You can join the Armed Forces before you go to a college or a career school and take advantage of the Montgomery GI Bill, which provides financial support to those who attend school after serving in the military. If you enlist in the U.S. Army, you may be eligible to receive repayment assistance from its Loan-Repayment Program. For a four-year enlistment in the Army Reserve, up to $20,000 may be available. You also can earn college credit for some military training, possibly reducing the number of classes you’ll have to take. As an active member of the military, you can take courses at a college or career school during your off-duty hours.
What is the AmeriCorps?
This service program, which is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, allows people of all ages and backgrounds to earn help paying for education in exchange for a year of national service.
What is financial need?
What is the federal formula for determining financial need?
Financial need is the difference between the Cost of Attendance (COA) and the EFC. Financial need can be expressed as an equation:
The COA usually varies from school to school, but the EFC stays about the same.
The financial aid professionals at the colleges you have selected use this information to calculate your financial need. The key formula for determining financial need is as follows:
Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need
COA - EFC = Financial Need
What is cost of attendance?
If you are comparing the costs of several colleges, you should consider not only tuition and fees, but also other expenses that you will incur while on campus. In addition to tuition and fees, your total cost of attendance includes housing and meal expenses, such as room and board if you live on campus; books and supplies; transportation costs; personal expenses, such as clothing, laundry, hair care and entertainment expenses; and miscellaneous expenses.
For the purpose of determining your eligibility for financial id, each college is responsible for determining an annual average Cost of Attendance (COA) for its students, using a standard definition prescribed by the U.S. Congress. Costs vary widely by individual colleges. To give you an idea of the average costs of attending college, the College Board estimates that, for the 2002-2003 academic year, the average annual costs for resident undergraduates attending a four-year public college are $12,841, and the annual costs of attending a four-year private college average $27, 677.
What kind of need-based aid is available?
There are three kinds of federal need-based aid: grants, loans, and work-study.
The Federal grant programs include:
Federal Pell Grant, and
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).
The Federal loan programs include: Federal Perkins Loan,
Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL), and
William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (also known as the Direct Loan).
The Federal work program:
Federal Work-Study. To find out about all of these programs in detail, get a free copy of the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Guide call 1-800-4FEDAID or visit
(U.S. Department of Education’s Student Guide is a comprehensive resource on student financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education. Grants, loans, and work-study are the three major forms of aid available through the Department's Federal Student Aid office. Updated each award year, The Student Guide tells you about the programs and how to apply for them.)
How do I apply for need-based financial aid?
To be considered for any of the federal programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and many state or school programs, you must complete a FAFSA. Financial aid is given on a year-by-year basis and you must reapply each year.
Where do I get a FAFSA?
The FAFSA is available in two formats: paper and electronic. The paper FAFSA is available from your high school, the school you would like to attend, and the public library, or by calling 1-800-4FEDAID. The electronic FAFSA on the Web is available at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
What do I need to complete the FAFSA?
Your Social Security Number
Your driver’s license
Your W-2 Forms and other records of money earned
Your (and your spouses, if you are married) 2009 Federal Income Tax Return – IRS Form 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, 1040Telefile, foreign tax return, or tax return from Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia.
Your parent’s 2009 Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student)
Your 2009 untaxed income records – Social Security, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, welfare, or veterans benefits records.
Your 2009 bank statements
Your 2004 business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond and other investment records.
Your alien registration card (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
Should I pay for a scholarship search or a FAFSA application?
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You should not pay for an application and free assistance to complete the form is available. Never agree to a fee based on the percentage of scholarship or grant aid received. A financial aid consultant cannot guarantee you will receive gift aid. If a consultant prepares the FAFSA for you, he or she should sign the FAFSA as a preparer. Never sign a blank form.
You and your parents should always review and sign the FAFSA after it has been prepared, and you should mail it to the FAFSA processor yourselves. You are legally responsible for the information contained within. As with all important documents, you should keep copies of the FAFSA and other applications for your files.
(Free College Scholarship Search)
(Free Scholarship Search and Information Service)
What is the CSS PROFILE form?
The CSS PROFILE is required by many private colleges and universities to determine your eligibility for non-governmental financial aid, such as the institution’s own grants, loans and scholarships. The College Board administers the PROFILE form.
The biggest difference between the CSS PROFILE and the FAFSA are:
Submission dates: The CSS PROFILE can be submitted in the fall; FAFSA cannot be submitted before January 1.
Specific questions: The CSS PROFILE contains questions specific to the school or program to which you’re applying. FAFSA has one set of standard questions.
Different methodology: The CSS PROFILE determines your financial need differently than the FAFSA, taking into account such factors as whether your family owns a home. In general, the CSS PROFILE asks for more detailed financial information than the FAFSA.
Minimum student contribution: The CSS PROFILE requires this; the FAFSA doesn’t.
Cost: CSS PROFILE charges a registration fee plus a fee for each school or scholarship program selected; the FAFSA is free.
(College Board Website)
(Lists scholarships offered by colleges and institutions to enrolled students meeting specific criteria)
Why use the web to file my FAFSA?
Electronic filing is faster than filing a paper form. The process may be as many as 7-14 days faster if you complete the FAFSA online and electronically sign your application. Submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid using FAFSA on the Web (www.fafsa.ed.gov) eliminates delays that can occur from mailing. Also, your FAFSA will be more accurate than a paper application, since the FAFSA on the Web has built-in edit checks to catch simple errors.
FAFSA on the Web is easy to navigate. Online help is available and more instructions are provided than on the paper FAFSA. In addition, unlike the paper form, the online FAFSA allows you to skip questions that don’t apply to you.
Am I a dependent or an independent student?
You are considered an independent student if:
You are 24 years of age before January 1 of the award year.
You are married as of the day you complete the FAFSA.
You are working on a degree beyond a bachelor’s degree.
You have children who receive more than half of their support from you, or you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) that live with you and receive more than half of their support from you. Generally speaking, if the child meets that 50% support test, the child should be claimed as an exemption on your income tax return.
You are an orphan or ward of the court.
You are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
If you do meet any of these requirements, then you are automatically a dependent student.
I think I (or my family) present special circumstances, what should I do?
If your family has any unusual circumstances (for example, high medical expenses or reduced income due to a recent job loss), contact the financial aid administrator at the school you plan to attend. You’ll have to provide your school with documentation to justify any changes. The financial aid administrator will decide whether an adjustment can be made. Be aware that the school’s decision is final and cannot be appealed to the Department of Education.
My parents refuse to complete the FAFSA; what should I do?
Talk to your parents; remind them that submitting the form does not obligate them to provide support (if that is their concern). If they do not file, you won’t be eligible for any need-based aid on your own. Tell them that if they do help you file a FAFSA, at least you’ll be able to qualify for aid so that you can pay for college.
My parents are involved in a divorce right now and they are not talking to each other; what should I do?
Talk to each parent separately. If they are concerned about the privacy of the financial information on the financial aid applications, have them speak individually to the financial aid administrator at the school. Education records, including financial aid applications and all supporting documents, are protected by privacy laws.
I live with relatives who have not legally adopted me. My parents have never provided financial support. How do I fill out the FAFSA?
Leave the parental items blank and contact the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend before you attempt to complete the FAFSA. The financial aid administrator can help you determine how to fill out the FAFSA.
I’m going to get married this summer. How do I answer the question about being married?
You may only answer, “YES” if you are married on the day you sign the FAFSA. Otherwise, you must answer “NO.”
My parents separated four months ago. I live with my mother. My parents filed a joint tax return and claimed me as an exemption. Do I report both of their incomes, or just my mother’s?
Report only your mother’s income and asset information because you lived with her the most during the past 12 months. Use a W-2 Form or other record(s) to determine her share of the income reported and taxes paid on the tax return.
My parents don’t file their taxes until the last minute. How should I answer the financial questions? Should I wait until after they file their taxes to do the FAFSA?
Ideally, you should complete a FAFSA after the taxes have been filed, but don’t wait until April. Many schools award aid on a first-come, first serve basis. File the FAFSA using estimated tax returns based on W-2 Forms and other financial records. You will need to correct the information once the tax return is filed.
How long do I have to decide which awards I’m accepting and declining?
Pay attention to deadlines for accepting the award package. (If there is a deadline it will be indicated in your award letter). You risk losing part of your award money if you send your award acceptance letter late. Not every college has the same policy. Don‘t take any chances – read each award letter for specific deadlines.
What happens after I send the FAFSA? After answering all the questions, submit the FAFSA. (Make a copy of the FAFSA for your records.) All your information is transmitted to a central processor where it is reviewed, analyzed, and your EFC is calculated. The information you give is also matched with other information in different federal databases, like Social Security and the Veteran’s Administration. What is a Student Aid Report or SAR?
The results of the FAFSA analysis are sent to you in a document called a Student Aid Report or SAR and to the schools you listed on the FAFSA.
In most cases, you will receive your SAR more quickly if you use the electronic FAFSA. Review all the information on your SAR to make sure it is correct. If any information is wrong, call your school immediately to find out how to make corrections.
Keep all parts of your SAR in a safe place.
How do I know what kind of aid I receive?
Your school will send you an award letter or notice that lists the types and amounts of aid for which you are eligible. Most schools award aid in the form of a financial aid package that combines scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study.
The types and amounts of aid you are offered will vary from school to school, depending on available funds and the number of aid applicants. Schools that have more funding may be able to offer larger grant awards, while schools that have less funding may have to offer larger loan or work-study awards. Schools might ask you to formally accept or decline your award and usually require you to do so by a specific date. Remember what we said about meeting deadlines!
How do I compare different aid offers?
If you are applying for financial aid at more than one school, you may receive several offers of aid. Take a close look at the offers and compare:
The COA. The more expensive a school is, the more financial aid you may need to make ends meet. A high cost of attendance may not be a problem as long as you can pay for it. Make sure you know what items are included in the cost of attendance, and compare the figures with your own estimates.
The EFC. Remember, the EFC is not financial aid. It is the amount you and your parents are expected to pay for your education. You and/or your parents may be able to borrow an educational loan to help come up with the Expected Family Contribution.
The total financial aid package. Remember that grants and scholarships are gifts; you do not have to pay them back or work for them if you fulfill the obligation. Compare the total gift aid (grants and scholarships) to the cost of attendance. A high amount of gift aid in the package may mean you will not have to borrow or work as much to meet your expenses. If you need to borrow, remember that the terms and conditions of educational loans can vary. Make sure you understand the terms and the costs (i.e., interest rate, loan fees, and repayment schedule) of each loan you are offered.
Unmet financial need. If the aid package does not contain enough money to cover all your financial need, you will have to come up with the difference, in addition to the EFC. This may mean you need to borrow more or find a part-time job.
Restrictions or conditions of the award. Look carefully at the things you must do to receive and keep your financial aid.
Beware of the bottom line. The total amount of aid in your package is not necessarily the most important figure. Consider the whole package, starting with the cost of attendance. Subtract the financial aid offer from the cost of attendance to see exactly how much you and your family will have to pay, then decide. Remember that the largest aid offer may not be the least expensive option. This is because the COA varies as does the individual composition of each financial aid package.