Financial Aid: General Questions About Eligibility and Applying

“I probably don't qualify for aid. Should I apply anyway?”

Yes. Many families think they do not 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 and is necessary to determine your financial need.

“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. However, to receive funds, you must be enrolled at a university.

“Why can't I submit my financial aid application before January 1?”

The need-based analysis process for financial aid uses the family's income and tax information from the most recent tax year (the base year) to determine your eligibility for need-based financial aid during the upcoming academic year (the award year). Since the base year ends December 31, you cannot submit a financial aid application until January 1. If you submit the financial aid application before January 1, it will be rejected.

“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 based on a number of factors (i.e. income, siblings in college, and/or an increase in tuition).

“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 education loans?”

In general, parents will only be responsible for your education loans if you are under 18 and they co-sign your loan. They will also be responsible if a Federal PLUS loan is obtained. In all other situations, you are responsible for repaying your education loans. Should your parents or any other person want to help repay your loans, they are free to do so. However, they are under no obligation to repay your loans. If they forget to pay the bill on time or decide to cancel payment, you will be held responsible for the payments, not them.

“Why is the family contribution listed on the Student Aid Report (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 six months and the Perkins loan has a grace period of nine 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 your grace period has run out in the middle of your leave of absence, you will have to start making payments on your student loans. For the Stafford loan, you are only granted one grace period, but with the Perkins loan, the grace period is renewed if you return to school.

“I received 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 it to the financial aid office. The university will adjust your financial aid package to include the outside aid.

“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 you are hearing impaired) and ask for a free copy of “The Student Guide: Financial Aid” from the U.S. Department of Education. This toll-free hotline is operated by the U.S. Department of Education and can answer questions about federal and state student aid programs and applications. You can also find information on their website:

More About Financial Aid:

Undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships help students pay for their education. Unlike loans, they do not have to be repaid. Hundreds of thousands of scholarships and fellowships are awarded each year.

Generally, scholarships and fellowships are awarded to students who met certain criteria. These criteria may be based on academic, athletic or artistic talent. There are also scholarships that are based on need or that are reserved to reach a certain group of people.

Free scholarship databases are available online for you to research and review. Many of these databases work to match you with scholarships for which you may be eligible. When using these sites, it is important to carefully read the description and requirements so that you have the best chance of receiving the scholarship.

There are also smaller or local awards that are not listed in books or databases. Look for notices posted on bulletin boards at your school's guidance office, the public library and outside the financial aid office at nearby colleges and universities.

  • Do not spend money on fee-based scholarship matching services. You will not receive any information that is not available on the free services.

  • Scholarships that sound too good to be true usually are too good to be true. Learn how to recognize and protect yourself from the most common scholarship scams.

  • The number one tip: If you have to pay money to get money, it's probably a scam!

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