I probably don't qualify for aid. Should I apply for aid anyway?
Yes. Many families mistakenly think they don’t qualify for aid and prevent themselves from receiving financial aid by failing to apply for it. In addition, there are a few sources of aid such as unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans that are available regardless of need. The FAFSA form is free. There is no good excuse for not applying.
Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at a particular university?
No. You can apply for financial aid any time after October 1. To actually receive funds, however, you must be admitted and enrolled at the university.
Why can't I submit my financial aid application before October 1?
The need analysis process for financial aid uses the family’s income and tax information from the most recent tax year (the base year) to judge your eligibility for need-based financial aid during the upcoming academic year (the award year). For the 2017-2018 college year, the base year is 2015. The CSS Profile will require estimates of the 2016 tax year if that return has not been completed.
Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year?
Yes. Most financial aid offices require that you apply for financial aid every year. If your financial circumstances change, you may get more or less aid. After your first year you will receive a “Renewal Application” which contains preprinted information from the previous year’s FAFSA. Note that your eligibility for financial aid may change significantly, especially if you have a different number of family members in college. Renewal of your financial aid package also depends on your making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree, such as earning a minimum number of credits and achieving a minimum GPA.
How do I apply for a Pell Grant and other types of need-based aid?
Submit a FAFSA. To indicate interest in student employment, student loans and parent loans, you should check the appropriate boxes. Checking these boxes does not commit you to accepting these types of aid. You will have the opportunity to accept or decline each part of your aid package later. Leaving these boxes unchecked will not increase the amount of grants you receive.
Are my parents responsible for my educational loans?
No. Parents are, however, responsible for the Federal PLUS loans. Parents will only be responsible for your educational loans if they co-sign your loan. In general you and you alone are responsible for repaying your educational loans.
You do not need to get your parents to cosign your federal student loans, even if you are under age 18, as the ‘defense of infancy’ does not apply to federal student loans. (The defense of infancy presumes that a minor is not able to enter into contracts, and considers any such contract to be void. There is an explicit exemption to this principle in the Higher Education Act with regard to federal student loans.) However, lenders may require a cosigner on private student loans if your credit history is insufficient or if you are underage. In fact, many private student loan programs are not available to students under age 18 because of the defense of infancy.
Why is the family contribution listed on the SAR different from the family contribution expected by the university?
The federal formula for computing the expected family contribution is different from those used by many universities. In particular, the federal formula does not consider home equity as part of the assets.
If I take a leave of absence, do I have to start repaying my loans?
Not immediately. The subsidized Stafford loan has a grace period of 6 months and the Perkins loan a grace period of 9 months before the student must begin repaying the loan. When you take a leave of absence you will not have to repay your loan until the grace period is used up. If you use up the grace period, however, when you graduate you will have to begin repaying your loan immediately. It is possible to request an extension to the grace period, but this must be done before the grace period is used up.
I got an outside scholarship. Should I report it to the financial aid office?
Yes. If you are receiving any kind of financial aid from university or government sources, you must report the scholarship to the financial aid office.
Unfortunately, the university will adjust your financial aid package to compensate. Nevertheless, the outside scholarship will have some beneficial effects. At some universities outside scholarships are used to reduce the self-help level. For example, at MIT the outside scholarship is first applied to reducing the self-help level, and only when the scholarship exceeds self-help does it replace institutional grants. At other universities outside scholarships are used to replace loans instead of grants.
Where can I get information about Federal student financial aid?
Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-800-730-8913 (if hearing impaired) and ask for a free copy of The Student Guide: Financial Aid from the US Department of Education. This toll free hotline is run by the US Department of Education and can answer questions about federal and state student aid programs and applications. You can also write to
Federal Student Aid Information Center
PO Box 84
Washington, DC 20044
Are work-study earnings taxable?
The money you earn from Federal Work-Study is generally subject to federal and state income tax, but exempt from FICA taxes (provided you are enrolled full time and work less than half-time).
Federal Work-Study earnings during the calendar year should be included in the totals for AGI and Worksheet C on the FAFSA. Work-study earnings should only be included in Worksheet C when they represent financial aid to the student, since the answer to this question is used as an exclusion from taxed income. The student should also be careful to report amounts based on the calendar year, not the school year.
Is it legal for a 17-year-old student to sign a promissory note for a student loan, even though the student has not yet reached the age of majority?
Normally, a minor cannot be held liable for a contract that they sign. However, in 1992 the Higher Education Act was amended to permit eligible students, defined as per Title IV regulations, to sign promissory notes for their own Federal student loans. As such, student loans represent one of the few exceptions to the so-called “defense of infancy”. The specific citation is section 484A(b)(2) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 USC 1091a(b)(2)), and applies to Stafford, PLUS and Consolidation Loans. It does not appear to apply to Perkins and Direct Loans, although it was clearly the intent of Congress that it should.
Where can I get a copy of the FAFSA?
You can ask your guidance counselor for a copy. You can also get the FAFSA from the financial aid office at a local college, your local public library, or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. The online version of the form is available at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. It is in the best interest of the student to complete the FAFSA on-line. The processing time would be 4-5 business days vs. 4-5 weeks with a hand written FAFSA.
How do you sign a FAFSA when you submit it?
You obtain an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid Identification Number) at http://www.fsaid.ed.gov for the student (s), and one parent.
How soon after October 1 should the FAFSA form be sent in? Is it better to wait until the income tax forms have been completed?
Send in the form as soon as possible after October 1. Do not wait until your taxes are done. Although it is better to do your taxes early, it is ok to use estimates of your income, so long as they aren’t very far off from the actual values. You will have an opportunity to correct any errors later. If you wait too long, you might miss the deadline for state aid. Most states require the FAFSA to be submitted by March 1, and some even as early as early or mid-February.
I sent in my FAFSA over four weeks ago but haven't heard anything. What should I do?
If you haven’t received a Student Aid Report (SAR), call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (toll free) or 1-319-337-5665. You must provide them with your Social Security number and date of birth as verification.
You can also write to
Federal Student Aid Programs
PO Box 4038
Washington, DC 52243-4038
to find out whether your FAFSA has been processed or to request a duplicate copy of your SAR.
What do those acronyms on the Student Aid Report (SAR) mean?
The acronyms on the bottom of the SAR represent intermediate results in the need analysis. To fully understand their meaning, you will need to be familiar with the federal need analysis methodology, such as is used by the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Estimator. The meanings of the acronyms are as follows:
EFC – Expected Family Contribution
TI – Total Income
ATI – Allowances Against Total Income
STX – State and Other Tax Allowance
EA – Employment Allowance
IPA – Income Protection Allowance
CAI – Contribution from Available Income (Independent Student)
DNW – Discretionary Net Worth
APA – Education Savings and Asset Protection Allowance
PCA – Parents’ Contribution from Assets
AAI – Adjusted Available Income
TPC – Total Parents’ Contribution
TSC – Total Student’s Contribution
PC – Parents’ Contribution
SIC – Dependent Student’s Income Contribution
SCA – Dependent Student’s Contribution from Assets
If an asterisk appears next to the EFC figure, the student has been selected for verification. The asterisk is followed by a code that explains the reason why the student was selected for verification. The letter explains the reason for selection, and the number indicates the priority, with code 1 the highest priority and code 25 the lowest priority (although there are higher codes).
I qualify for the Simplified Needs Test. Should I fill out Section G anyway?
Yes. Some states and most private colleges require the asset information in Section G to compute their own financial aid awards. Including this information will not affect your eligibility for federal financial aid (it is disregarded by the Federal Need Analysis Methodology if you qualify for the Simplified Needs Test). Even if none of the schools require the information, you should include it anyway, just in case.
What are some helpful resources where I can learn more about college finances?
FinAid! Financial Aid, College Scholarships and Student Loans
Federal Student Aid – Financial Aid Toolkit
U.S. Department of Education – Financial Aid
Fastweb Scholarships Search
NASFAA Financial Aid Glossary
Student Financial Aid and Scholarships