FAQs - Financial Aid

open all close all


Student financial aid is money to help students pay for their college expenses. College can be expensive and many families and students cannot afford to pay for tuition and fees, books and supplies, and the living expenses associated with attending college. Federal and state governments, colleges and universities, and organizations attempt to make sure that college is affordable for all students by providing student financial aid to help meet the college costs for students who do not have sufficient resources. The federal government provides 75 percent of all financial aid awarded to students across the country. Nationally, states provide 6 percent of all aid and institutions provide 19 percent. Of all federal financial aid, three quarters is in the form of student loans.

Financial need is determined according to formulas established by the federal government. Using those formulas, the information supplied on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used to calculate an expected family contribution. This is the amount that students and their families are expected to pay for college costs. This amount is subtracted from the total cost of attending college to determine financial need.

If a student and his/her family (parents, spouse) need help to pay college expenses, he/she should apply for financial aid. There is no charge for filing an application.

All of the information submitted on the application form is confidential and released only to the financial aid offices at the campuses the student lists on the form.

While eligibility for financial aid varies somewhat between programs, the basic requirements for major student financial aid programs are as follows:

  • Have financial need, except for some scholarship and loan programs
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, pass an independently administered test approved by the U.S. Department of Education, or meet other standards the student's state establishes that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education
  • Be enrolled as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program at an eligible institution
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Make satisfactory academic progress
  • Sign a statement of educational purpose/certification statement on refunds and default (found on the Student Aid Report)
  • Register with the Selective Service System if the student is a male between 18 and 25 years of age

While grades do not play a major role in determining eligibility for financial aid, academic criteria do come into play. First of all, students must meet the institution's admission criteria that typically include some consideration of grades or other measures of academic achievement or potential. Financial aid recipients are required to make satisfactory academic progress toward their degree or credential objective. Institutions establish standards of satisfactory academic progress and monitor the progress of aid recipients. Institutional standards include consideration of the number of units for which students enroll and satisfactorily complete each year, as well as the total number of units a student completes over the entire academic program. According to federal regulations, aid recipients must have a C average or a 2.0 GPA at the end of their second year. For institutional and other scholarships based on academic merit, grades are typically a factor in selection of recipients.

You can get a copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from your high school or college counselor. FAFSA forms are also available from the financial aid office at any college or university, trade and technical schools, and at many public libraries. 

The U.S. Department of Education makes the FAFSA available in several formats on the Internet. A PDF version of the FAFSA can be downloaded, FAFSA Express software can be downloaded to your computer for completion, and FAFSA on the Web provides for online completion of the student aid application.
The FAFSA form for the 2015-16 school year became available in December 2014. The form may be filed after January 1, 2015. 

You should check with the college you are interested in attending to get information about possible earlier deadlines and other procedures.
Student financial aid programs are generally classified as gift/grant aid and self-help aid. Gift aid is awarded in the form of scholarships, fellowships, and grants that do not have to be repaid. Self-help aid is awarded in the form of work or student employment programs and loans that must be repaid. Most, but not all, financial aid programs are awarded on the basis of financial need. Some programs, particularly scholarships, are awarded on the basis of academic achievement or merit.
Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, doesn't have to be repaid. Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or professional degree. (A professional degree would include a degree in a field such as pharmacy or dentistry, but only if a prior undergraduate degree was not earned.) For many students, Pell Grants provide a foundation of financial aid to which other aid may be added.
Yes. Many undergraduates who do not qualify for a Federal Pell Grant may still qualify for a state grant or campus-based aid. Grant funds are limited, which is why it is so important to submit your financial aid application in a timely manner. Virtually all students can qualify for some form of student loan but should consider the obligations associated with borrowing.
The campus-based federal programs are: The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program awards grants, the Federal Work-Study Program offers jobs, and the Federal Perkins Loan Program offers loans. Participating schools receive limited funds for these programs, so apply early. These programs are administered directly by the financial aid offices at participating schools. Not all schools are involved with all three programs.
The information supplied on a completed FAFSA is used in a formula, established by the U.S. Congress, that calculates your expected family contribution (EFC), the amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward your education. If your EFC is below a certain amount and you meet all other requirements, you qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. Your financial aid administrator determines your cost of attendance (in most cases, tuition and fees, room and board, travel, books and supplies, and personal and miscellaneous expenses) and subtracts your EFC. The remaining balance is your financial need.
Four to six weeks after you send your FAFSA to the central processor, or two to three weeks after you file it electronically, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the U.S. Department of Education. You should review the information listed on the form to make sure it is correct and that all of the colleges you are interested in attending are listed on the form. If any information is not correct, you must return the form with the correct information. Colleges that you list on the FAFSA will receive an electronic copy of the information that is listed on your SAR and that you provided on the FAFSA. Your state grant award eligibility will be based on the first school you list on the FAFSA. The financial aid offices at the colleges may contact you for additional information regarding your application for aid or advise you when to expect a financial aid award letter.

Yes. It is a good idea to start a file folder or binder of all important papers related to your college admission and financial aid applications. Keep copies of your completed applications and FAFSA, your Student Aid Report, a copy of any additional documents that you might have supplied to the college financial aid office, and any correspondence with the federal processor, the campus financial aid office, or other financial aid or scholarship agencies.

Important things to remember:

  • Get a FAFSA form from your high school counselor, local college, or online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and review it over your December school break.
  • Apply for a PIN number at pin.ed.gov if you plan to file the FAFSA electronically.
  • File your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1.
  • Respond promptly to all requests for additional information about your FAFSA, SAR, state grants and scholarships, and applications.
  • Keep a copy of all applications and documents you file.