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Financial Aid - FAQ

If you think you will need help paying for your college expenses, you should apply by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You will often find FAFSAs at local high schools, colleges or libraries, or you can apply electronically using FAFSA on the Web at

The calculation which determines eligibility for aid is complicated. There is no easy, straight forward "income cut-off" or other method to help you anticipate whether you'll be eligible – the only way to find out for sure is to apply. If your family circumstances change, the financial aid office is in a better position to help if your application is already on file.

Here are estimates of how much it costs to attend various schools. These figures include tuition and fees for nine months and an estimate for room and board, transportation, books and supplies, and miscellaneous personal expenses. Living expenses will be adjusted down for those students living with their parents.

Public Community/Technical College $17,316
Public Four Year College/University $22,227
Public Four Year Research University $26,066
Independent Four Year College/University $46,730
Private Vocational Schools  Cost varies - contact individual schools
You can receive financial aid equal to your "financial need." Financial aid is not intended to replace your family's contribution toward educational costs but rather to help fill the gap between what your family can pay and your total education costs. Financial aid not based on need is also frequently available to those who apply for financial aid (i.e., those who go through the application process for "need-based" aid).

A standard analysis is used to determine financial need. The amount your family is expected to contribute (the Student Aid Index, or SAI) is calculated based upon the information reported on your FAFSA. The SAI is then subtracted from the cost of education at the school to which you're applying. The difference between the two is your need for financial assistance.

You can estimate your SAI up front by using an online calculator at

Contact the financial aid office of each school you are considering attending as soon as possible and ask for their application procedures and deadlines. Provide all information and forms by the deadlines the school specifies. If your application is late or incomplete, you may not be considered for all the aid programs available or you may not receive your aid in time to meet the tuition deadline. Don't wait to be admitted -- meet the deadlines even if you don't plan to attend until winter or spring because many schools' deadlines apply for the whole year, not just fall.

Start by completing a FAFSA on  If you prefer not to complete your FAFSA online, you must call the federal processor and ask to have a paper FAFSA mailed to your home (800-4FEDAID) or you can print one from the FAFSA website.  

Not necessarily. Many schools offer admission long before they can make financial aid awards. Check with each school about their refund policies for "enrollment fees" in case the school cannot offer you enough assistance to attend.

It is a good idea to have completed the federal tax return before completing the FAFSA since the application will require consent to retrieve exact tax information  directly from the IRS.  If this cannot be done in time for you to meet the priority filing date at the school(s) in which you are interested,  contact your school’s financial aid office to find out how you should submit the information.

Keep a file with copies of all application materials for each year including a U.S. income tax return and W-2s in the event you need to provide a copy to your school.  

Yes. Students under 24 years of age are considered dependent on their parents by federal law no matter where they live (there are limited exceptions -- please note them in the FAFSA instructions). If your parents do not provide their information on your application, you probably cannot be considered for aid. If you have special circumstances which make it impossible for your parents to complete the FAFSA, contact the school’s financial aid office and discuss it with them.

If your parents are divorced, separated, or never married, and don’t live together, the parent who provided more financial support during the last 12 months is the contributor and must provide their information. If both parents provided an exact equal amount of financial support or if they don’t support you financially, the parent with the greater income or assets is the contributor and must provide their information.

Contact the financial aid office of the school you will attend. They can determine if the change will affect your eligibility for assistance. Letters of explanation should not be sent with your FAFSA, as it will only delay processing and will be destroyed.

After you complete your FAFSA, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). This document may give you some guidance about expected contribution toward college cost, but it is not the final word. Wait to hear from the financial aid office of the school or college where you've applied; they make the final determination of your eligibility for assistance. You can ask the school when it expects to send out award notices (this may range from early spring to mid-summer).

You may be asked to provide documents to verify any item on the application. Colleges are required to collect Tax Transcripts (or a signed 1040 form) to verify a student and parent's information.  Make sure you and your parents keep a photocopy of your completed federal tax returns and W-2s used to complete the application.  The college will notify you of which documents you will need.

There are four basic kinds of aid: scholarships, grants, loans and work study programs. Most students naturally prefer scholarship and grant programs because they do not have to be repaid, but there is not enough of this "gift" aid to meet the need of all students eligible for aid. Usually gift aid is offered with loans and/or work study funds which is commonly termed "self-help" aid.

Your first contact should be your high school counselor. Local organizations typically work with high schools to award scholarships. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships. Materials provided by admission or financial aid offices will include this information or you can visit their Web sites. There are also a number of national scholarship search services available. The majority of these services are provided for free. If you choose to pay for these services, be cautious and confirm the organizations are legitimate before paying.

Scholarships usually represent only a small portion of the total funds available for financial aid, so even if you don't qualify for a scholarship, you may be offered other aid. If you expect to receive a scholarship from an outside source, it is important to inform the financial aid office.

A loan is financial aid and your eligibility is established with the information on the FAFSA. The financial aid office is the best source of information about whether you are eligible to apply for a loan in addition to other aid. There may be an additional application process and separate application form. For more information, contact your school’s financial aid office.

Many students work, usually 10 to 15 hours per week. Surveys have shown the students who work do as well, often better, in their classes than students who don't -- perhaps the obligation of having a job requires them to budget their time more carefully. Work study programs have three main advantages: (1) it helps you keep your loan debt down, since often the alternative to work is taking a loan, (2) it gives you a chance to get work experience which will help you find a job when you get out of school, and (3) work study earnings are offset on future aid applications.

Correspondence should not be sent with your FAFSA, as it will only delay processing and will be destroyed. Correspondence that explains your family’s special circumstances should be sent to the college you plan to attend.