Frequently Asked Questions

Financial Aid and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Who is eligible to receive federal student aid?

To be eligible, you must

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number (Students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau are exempt from this requirement.)
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate or pass an approved ability-to-benefit (ATB) test
  • Be enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  • Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan.
  • Comply with Selective Service registration, if required
  • Not have a drug conviction for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, loans, or work-study). Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, loans, or work-study). If you have such a conviction, you must complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you are eligible for aid or partially eligible for aid.
  • Demonstrate financial need (except for unsubsidized Stafford Loans). Many types of federal student aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant or subsidized loans where the government pays the interest while you are in college, also require you to have financial need.

Contact your financial aid office or look online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ for additional information.

How much federal financial aid can I receive?

Your eligibility for aid depends on your Expected Family Contribution, your year in school, enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the school you will be attending. Your school's financial aid office will tell you how much you can receive at that school.

I think my family's income isn't low enough to qualify for financial aid. Should I apply anyway?

Yes! The federal government has a formula that determines the amount your family is expected to contribute to your college costs. Any costs above that have a chance to be covered by financial aid. Plus, there are few sources of financial aid not based on need such as the unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans. The FAFSA form is free so there's no reason not to apply.

I'm going to college part time. Am I eligible for financial aid?

Financial aid is available for students attending at least half-time. Part-time students attending at least half time do need to fill out the FAFSA to see what financial aid they are eligible for.

What kind of financial aid can I get to attend a vocational or technical school, or to take online classes?

Generally, the same types of financial aid are available for vocational, technical and online classes. Ask your financial aid office to ensure that the degree or certificate program in which you are enrolled meets financial aid eligibility.

Do all schools accept federal financial aid?

No. Contact your school to find out if they participate in the Federal Student Aid program.

Do I need a Social Security number to apply for federal student financial aid?

You must have a Social Security number (SSN) to be eligible for federal student financial aid. If you submit a FAFSA without an SSN, your FAFSA will be returned to you unprocessed.

Is a student who has a Permanent Resident Card and who has a Social Security card that states it is for work only eligible to receive financial aid?

The student is eligible for federal financial aid if he or she is a U.S. permanent resident who has an I-151, I-551, or I-551C (Permanent Resident Card).

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 January 1. To actually receive funds, however, you must be admitted and enrolled at the university.

If I'm an emancipated minor, am I now independent?

The status of "emancipated minor" is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for financial aid purposes.

To be considered an independent student at least one of the following must apply:

  • You are 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year;
  • You are married on the day you apply (even if you are separated but not divorced);
  • You are or will be enrolled in a master's or doctoral program (beyond a bachelor 's degree) during the school year;
  • You are currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training; or
  • You are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces ("veteran" includes students who attended a U.S. service academy and were released under a condition other than dishonorable).
  • You have children who receive more than half their support from you;
  • You have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you.
  • At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?
  • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor?
  • As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?
  • At any time after your junior year in high school, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • At any time after your junior year in high school, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • At any time after your junior year in high school, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

How can I get in touch with someone who can help me with a financial aid question?

Contact the financial aid office of a local college or university.

For information about your FAFSA you can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center, run by the U.S. Department of Education, at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Assistance in Spanish is available.

How do I apply for aid?

  • The fastest way is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online—FASFA on the Web—and provide the required signatures. The website is www.fafsa.gov.
  • The student and a parent are required to provide a signature at the end of the application. Be sure to secure a PIN for both the student and a parent before you fill out the FAFSA.
  • If you provided a valid e-mail address on your FAFSA, you will receive an e-mail with instructions on how to access an online copy of your SAR. If you did not provide a valid e-mail address on your FAFSA, the Social Security Number you included in your FAFSA did not match the one on file for you with the Social Security Administration, or you did not sign your FAFSA, you will receive either a SAR or a SAR Acknowledgement via postal mail. Typically, you will be able to access your SAR within two weeks of filing your FAFSA.
  • Your SAR will summarize the data you report on your FAFSA. Check the SAR carefully to make sure it is accurate. (Keep a copy of your SAR.)
  • If you submitted complete FAFSA information, an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be printed in the upper right corner of your SAR. Your EFC is based on the financial information you provide on the FAFSA.
  • Your school will use your EFC to award your financial aid.

Where can I get a copy of the FAFSA?

Do I have to pay for the FAFSA?

No, the FAFSA is free. Never pay an individual or an organization to help you fill out the FAFSA. To get free help, be sure to go to www.fafsa.gov.

When should I fill out the FAFSA?

Complete the FAFSA so you can submit it as soon as possible after January 1. The FAFSA should be completed and submitted every year that you are in college.

How can I get a PIN?

  • Go to www.pin.ed.gov and select Apply for a PIN.
  • Provide your Social Security number, full name, complete address, date of birth, email address (if you have one), and a security pass phrase.
  • Once you have completed the PIN application, select the "Submit Request" button.
  • If the information you entered passes an identity check with the Social Security Administration, a PIN will be mailed or emailed to you.
  • Be sure to have one of your parents secure a PIN also.

I forgot my PIN. What do I do?

  • Go to www.pin.ed.gov and select Request a Duplicate PIN.
  • Provide your Social Security number, the first two letters of your last name, and your date of birth.
  • If you provide an email address, a link to your PIN will be emailed to you.
  • If you do not provide an email address, your PIN will be mailed to you in about 7-10 days.

Why should I get a PIN?

You can use your PIN to access your financial aid data at these U.S. Department of Education websites:

  • The National Student Loan Data System website: www.nslds.ed.gov/nslds_SA/. View a history of the federal student financial aid you have received.

What is expected family contribution (EFC)?

EFC is the amount students and their families are expected to pay toward school expenses. The EFC is determined by a federal formula. If your family can't cover the full amount calculated as the EFC, be sure to look into scholarships, grants, work-study, or other financial aid options. As always, search for free money first

What is the student aid report (SAR)?

The SAR is the report confirming financial aid information submitted on your FAFSA. You can use the SAR to make any needed changes to information provided in the FAFSA. The information on the SAR is what is sent to the financial aid offices at colleges and universities.

How do I answer the tax questions if I (or my parents) don't file a tax return?

  • Answer "Will Not File" to question 32 (Have you completed a tax return?).
  • You will be taken to question 38 (Income earned from work).
  • Enter any monies earned from a job that is listed as taxed on a W-2 form.
  • Then answer only those income questions that apply to you from that point on.

I'll file a tax return this year, but I probably won't do it until April. How should I answer the financial questions? Should I wait to fill out this form until after I've filed my tax return?

If you haven't submitted your tax return, you should calculate your adjusted gross income (AGI) and taxes paid using the instructions for IRS Form 1040. After you complete your tax return, you may need to make corrections later if your income or tax information isn't accurate. You will also need to return any federal student aid you received based upon incorrect information.

If my parents are divorced, whose information do I report?

You should provide information from the parent you lived with more during the last 12 months. If equal, list the one who provided more financial support. If you have a stepparent, he or she will have to include information also.

I live with my mother who is remarried but she and my stepfather are keeping their finances separate. For the parent income portion of the FAFSA, do I enter just my mom's finances or both?

You need to include both your mother's and your stepfather's income on the FAFSA. Regardless of any agreement to keep their finances separate, including any prenuptial agreement, both incomes factor into determining your parents' available income.

I am entering financial information for my mother and stepfather on the FAFSA. Should I give my father's Social Security number (SSN) and last name or my stepfather's?

You should provide the SSN and last name of the same person or people for whom you are reporting financial information. In this case, provide the SSNs and names of your mother and stepfather.

I live with an aunt (or grandparent or other relative). Should that relative's income be reported instead of parental information?

You can report your relative's income only if the relative is your adoptive parent. Dependent students can be considered dependent only on their parents and must report only parental information on the FAFSA. You must report (in Worksheet B) any cash support given by relatives, but not in-kind support (such as food and housing) from relatives.

Whose financial information do I include on the FAFSA if my parents are not legal U.S. residents/citizens but I am?

If you are a U.S. citizen, but your parents are not, you are eligible for federal financial aid. On the FAFSA you should enter 000-00-0000 in the parent Social Security number section. Including a fake, stolen, or SSN/TIN that is for work purposes only may cause your application to be rejected.

I'm not sure if I want to take out a student loan or work during the school year. What should I enter for the questions asking if I am interested in student loans or Work-Study?

Some schools use this information to put together a financial aid package for you. Answering "Yes" to either question does not obligate you to take out a loan or accept a Work-Study position. It usually just means that the school will offer you a loan(s) or Work-Study as part of your aid package. If you indicate on the application that you are interested in either a loan or Work-Study, you can change your mind and not accept the loan(s) or Work-Study later.

Keep in mind that if you answer "No" to the Work-Study question when you apply and subsequently change your mind, a Work-Study job may not be available if all of the Work-Study funds at your school have been used up.

Do I provide the value of retirement and pension funds in the asset part of the FAFSA?

No, FAFSA does not take into account money in pension funds, retirement, or home equity.

How does a family decide who should be counted in the household size?

  • Anyone in the immediate family who receives more than 50% support from a dependent student's parents or an independent student and spouse may be counted in the household size even if that person does not live in the house. For example, a sibling who is over 24 but still receives the majority of his/her support from the parents can be included.
  • Siblings who are dependent (as defined by the FAFSA) as of the date you apply for aid are also included, regardless of whether they receive more than 50% of their support from the parents.
  • Any other person who lives in the household and receives more than 50% support from the parents may also be counted, as long as he or she will continue to live with your parents and the support is expected to continue through the award year.
  • An unborn child who will be born before or during the award year may also be counted in the household size.

There are some special (or extenuating) circumstances in my family (my grandmother lives with us and my mom just got her work hours reduced). Is there any way to appeal my financial aid award package?

Contact your college/university's financial aid office. All schools have some type of appeal process. You may have to provide a letter with back-up backup documentation such as an itemized list of support for your grandmother and a copy of your mom's pay stubs.

My financial situation has changed drastically from last year so the information submitted on the FAFSA does not reflect my current situation. What do I do now?

Explain your situation to your financial aid office to discuss possible options. Also keep looking for scholarships that may still have open application windows.

Can I apply for financial aid to go to a new school even if I quit paying my loan for my old school?

If you have student loan in default, you are not eligible to receive additional federal student aid unless you have made satisfactory arrangements to repay the defaulted loan.

I am a U.S. citizen. How do I apply for financial aid to attend school outside of the United States?

There are both federal aid options and scholarships available for study abroad programs. Talk to your financial aid office and the office managing your study abroad program. Both offices should have information for students studying abroad. Also, use the resources on our scholarships search page to look for private scholarships on the Internet.

Is there a limit to the number of years I can get financial aid?

It depends. You can continue to complete the FAFSA, but there are some restrictions on how many years and how much federal student assistance a student can receive. Colleges may also limit the number of years and amount depending on academic status, etc. You may be able to apply for certain scholarships each year. Talk to your college financial aid office to find out what you are eligible for.