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Financial Aid Questions and Answers

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, October 14, 2013

Have questions about financial aid? You're not alone. Read through some of our most commonly asked questions here.

Federal and State Student Aid


I am not 24, but live on my own. Is there any way to apply for financial aid for college independently?
Federal regulations for student aid eligibility say you are dependent on your parents, unless you're married, have a child, are a veteran, are a ward of the court, or have already received a bachelor's degree. Consider going to school on a part-time basis, or attending a two-year college. When you're 24, you'll be independent for federal aid. You can also appeal to an aid counselor.

My father will not contribute to college costs. Will his salary be counted in our EFC?
You will probably have to obtain written documentation that your dad is not contributing and that they filed their taxes independently. Ask a financial aid counselor to use professional discretion to help you. Every college could give you a different EFC analysis. Start the appeal process now.

We aren't planning to complete the FAFSA because we know we won't qualify. Should we do it anyway?
Yes! There are families whose adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeded $100,000 and qualified for need-based aid at Princeton. Your income may be so high that need assistance would be denied, but it doesn't hurt to try, especially if you have more than one child attending college.

Can a federal work-study (FWS) award be increased to decrease the amount of loans required, or is there a limit on the number of hours that a student can participate in FWS?
Most FWS awards will generate approximately 15 hours of work a week while classes are in session, more during break. Some schools will increase the FWS amount to reduce a loan, but you must appeal in writing. There is no regulatory maximum on FWS hours worked; however, your school sets your work hours.

Scholarships

Are there scholarships for international students?
Select the colleges you have an interest in and then contact the admission office. Most American schools do not offer international scholarships, although some do. If you are an exceptional student you might be able to obtain some funding. Check out additional financial aid information to find more sources of money.

What should I do to qualify for a merit scholarship?
Research the colleges on your list and determine their merit scholarship criteria. Some schools have a scholarship grid posted on their Web site that guarantees you a scholarship as long as you have a certain GPA, test scores, and class rank. As for outside scholarships, the more you search, the more you'll find!

How can I improve my chances of qualifying for a scholarship?
Focus on schools that you truly have an interest in — then go visit them! Many colleges factor in the number of visits and calls a family makes. Also begin to build a scholarship portfolio. List all activities in and out of school, awards, and project involvements. Schools are very interested in a well-rounded student.

Loans

How do I find loans to pay for college?
First, you should complete a FAFSA. You may qualify for grants and awards that don't have to be repaid. Only accept a loan to bridge the remaining need.

What can I do if a lot of my funding is coming from a PLUS Loan but my parents aren't creditworthy?
If your parents are denied a PLUS loan you should notify your school immediately so they can increase your student financial aid award, probably from a loan source. However, please be advised that if your parents can document extenuating circumstances, they may be able to be approved. Also, if someone who can pass the credit check agrees to endorse the loan it might be approved as well.

Bridging the financial aid gap


I have received a significant award toward tuition at an in-state institution, but will still be short. Where should I look to fill the gap?
Try speaking to the head of your major's department. They may have discretionary funds. Also speak to the financial aid office after classes begin to see if there are funds from non-returning students. Another strategy is to obtain on-campus work so that faculty and staff get to know you. Most colleges have award money that is not advertised. Lastly, find out if the school will offer more assistance if your EFC is the same next year.

Are there ways to get additional aid from a school if you have already received your award letter?
The first award letter isn't always the final offer. If you feel that your Expected Family Contribution is too high, appeal with documentation to support your request for increased funding. Medical costs not covered by insurance or a loss of employment are legitimate appeals. Make sure you appeal in writing and in person. Also ask the aid office to review your award for errors. If one is found they will make corrections.

I did not apply for financial aid for college this year, but need it for next year. Are all of the funds already allocated?
If you are attending college at least half time, you can still apply for funds for this year. Pell Grants are available through June and you can always obtain a loan. Ask your aid counselor if any funds still remain available due to students withdrawing. As for applying for next year, do it ASAP!

I was denied student aid because my parents make too much, but I am funding most of my education on my own! Are there ways that I can still get money?
It appears that your expected family contribution was greater than the school's cost. Speak to the head of the department of your major for possible scholarship assistance. You can always obtain an unsubsidized Stafford loan and your parents can apply for a PLUS loan if needed. Neither is based on need.

Award letters

I received my financial award package and it says the cost of attendance is over $14,000. The tuition itself is just under $6,000. How are they coming up with this figure?
Colleges often list two types of cost of attendance. The first includes direct expenses, meaning tuition, room and board, and fees. The second includes indirect costs, like books, transportation, loan fees, etc. Add these together and you get a full cost of attendance. Commuters are often given a different budget than students living on-campus. Make sure you have been assigned the correct budget.

Do financial aid letters have to list both met and unmet need?
An award letter doesn't have to list the unmet need, but it should! Schools who only meet a small percentage of need do not want that fact to be very visible to the consumer. That's why some letters only list the funds given. Compare awards and shop for the best deal and the least out-of-pocket costs.

Parent questions about financial aid information


I filled out a worksheet that estimated our family contribution. It seemed extremely high. Is there a percent of net or gross income that they expect you to be able to pay?
Your EFC is the result of an analysis of a variety of financial components. Such things as current cash, savings, and checking accounts are considered, as well as the net worth of a parent's investments, including real estate (though not a parent's home). Adjusted gross income is just one piece of the puzzle.

I live on modest means, but my home equity is substantial. Will this affect my aid?
The good news is that the value of your home is not considered when applying for FAFSA federal assistance. You may be required to report home equity via other forms, but not the FAFSA.

We receive no aid for one child and have another about to start. Should we consider a home equity loan?
Compare private and home equity loan rates. Do you really want to place your home in a vulnerable situation? There are mixed opinions on the use of home equity loans for college. Before you make any decisions, consult with a CPA.

If I have two kids in college and both schools have a policy of meeting financial need based on the EFC, how does the aid get coordinated?
The aid is not coordinated. The EFC for each student will reflect that there are two in college. Each school will receive your information and offer aid based on their unique formula.

I am a single parent with only one income ($36,000) and did not receive any aid. Why?
You should qualify for a Pell grant, unless you have incredible assets. Run to the student financial aid office and have your FAFSA reviewed. If lateness is the issue, it shouldn't affect your Pell grant. Many students don't show up in the fall, so get on a waiting list for funding. Also start searching scholarships. Next year, know the deadlines and apply ASAP.

Is there any benefit of having two children in the same college?
At least 128 colleges offer sibling discounts. On average, schools with this kind of "deal" reduce tuition by about 20 percent each. If you apply for need-based aid and are found eligible, you will have your expected family contribution reduced by 50 percent due to two in college at the same time.

Other student aid issues


If you apply early decision and find that with the financial aid package you have received you can't or are not willing to spend the amount expected, what happens?
The school will not simply increase the aid package. You need to explain why, in writing, and appeal. You may also borrow to bridge the gap. Speak directly to an aid counselor at your school for guidance. If worse comes to worse, inability to pay is the only condition by which you can break an early decision commitment.

Is there such a thing as waiving an application fee?
Many times schools will waive an application fee or even the cost of a PROFILE aid application. This is not automatic. Speak directly to the college admission office and expect to document your circumstances.

I inherited money. Can I invest it so that it won't be considered all available for college?
You must report the total inheritance on your FAFSA. Student assets will be computed at a higher rate than a parent's (35 percent vs. 5.6 percent.) If possible, place your inheritance funds in their name.

We have a baby and want start a college fund. What is the best vehicle for this?
Call your state higher education agency to ask about 529 plans and if any state schools have prepaid tuition plans. You may also want to interview college financial aid planners who specialize in early college planning.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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