Financial aid can be scary; I’ll be the first to admit that. But one of the best ways to make everything a little bit more manageable is to make sure that you understand the language financial aid offices are using. So regardless of whether you are currently reviewing your financial aid package asking, “What the heck does any of this mean?” or you are just beginning to apply to colleges and wondering whether or not you can afford your dream school, this guide should help to make everything more doable.
Campus job: Campus job is fairly self-explanatory. It is a job on campus that is factored into your financial aid (meaning you are expected to earn a certain amount from the job and contribute it to your college costs) but is not federally regulated.
CSS (College Scholarship Service) profile: The CSS is similar to FAFSA in that it is a form used to determine potential aid. It is run by the CollegeBoard and is used less frequently than the FAFSA. While all institutors require FAFSA, for the most part only private institutions require the CSS profile. There is a fee to fill it out; in the past it was a $9 fee for the actual form and then $16 per school. It can be found online here. It goes live much earlier than FAFSA and can be filled out in the fall.
EFC (Expected family contribution): This how much your family is supposed to pay each year. This can include not only tuition and/or room/board but also things like travel and books. EFC tends to vary from school to school. Here is FAFSA’s definition of EFC.
The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in the formula. Also considered are your family size and the number of family members who will attend college during the year.
EFC calculator: The EFC calculator is a calculator run by the CollegeBoard that provides an estimate of what your family’s EFC. The calculator can be found here and is known for often estimating higher numbers than the EFCs people actually get.
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): FAFSA is the main application you fill out to determine if you are eligible for government and/or institutional aid. FAFSA is through the government and has to be filled out annually. It opens January 1st each year and can be found online here. The form asks for information like income of parents and your family’s savings and property. To fill it out you will usually need parents’ and/or guardians’ 1040 and W-2.
Federal Pell Grants: Pell Grants are grant money given from the government to low-income students. One is automatically given a Pell Grant based on their FAFSA if they are eligible. The maximum changes each year with the maximum for the 2015-2016 year being $5,775.
Federal subsidized loan: A federal subsidized loan is a loan provided by the government for school that can only be taken out if you are determined to be eligible. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on the loan while you are enrolled in school at least half-time and for the first six months after you graduate. You can also defer having to pay it off if you continue your education after undergrad.
Federal unsubsidized loan: A federal unsubsidized loan is also provided by the government, but does not require certain financial need (unlike subsidized loans). The main differences is that interest starts accumulating immediately because the U.S. Department of Education never pays the interest.
Federal work-study (FWS): Federal work-study is a campus job that is funded and guaranteed by the government. The U.S. Department of Education explains it best. They say, “The FWS Program provides funds for part-time employment to help needy students to finance the costs of postsecondary education. Students can receive FWS funds at approximately 3,400 participating postsecondary institutions.”
Meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need: When a school says that they “meet 100 percent of demonstrated need”, they are pledging to give you the difference between their total costs and your EFC. So if a school costs $20,000 and your EFC is $5,000 they would give you $15,000. However when meeting need a school can include loans and/or work-study.
Outside scholarship: Outside scholarships are scholarships provided by private organizations (often non-profits) that a student applies for separately from the school. These scholarships can often be used to reduce various aspects of a financial aid award including work-study and loans.
Private loan: Private loans are loans taken out from any institution that is not the government. They tend to have the highest interest rates and will begin to accumulate interest immediately. Private loans will not be factored into a financial aid award however are often taken out when there is unmet need.
State grants: State grants are like Pell Grants but are provided by one’s state. You have to apply for a state grant separately but if you have completed your FAFSA, there is very little you need to do. Each state has their own maximum amount that they will award.
Student aid report (SAR): A student aid report is basically a document that tells institutions how much you can afford for college. It is based on your FAFSA and becomes available after you finish filling out the FAFSA. It is most often required when applying for outside scholarships. The official definition is “a paper or electronic document that gives you some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid as well as listing your answers to the questions on your FAFSA.”
Unmet need: Unmet need is the difference between how much a school is providing in aid and your EFC. If a school cost $20,000 and your EFC was $5,000 but the school only gave you $12,000 then your unmet need would be $3,000.