Financial Aid Terms


A glossary to guide you as your family considers financial aid options.

College Scholarship Service (CSS) A service that provides the Financial Aid PROFILE Service (see below), which some colleges use in awarding nonfederal aid.

Cooperative Education Plan (Co-op) A program offered by some colleges that lets a student combine work and study. Co-op programs are either "alternating" (work and study in alternating school terms) or "parallel" (work and study scheduled within the same school term).

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) This is the amount a family is expected to pay toward educational expenses for the coming year. The EFC is calculated from a formula established by Congress, based on the information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Federal Hope Scholarships This is actually a tax credit, rather than a scholarship. Families can claim a tax credit of up to $1,500 per tax year for each eligible dependent for up to two years. The actual amount of the credit depends on the family's income and other factors.

Federal Work-Study This program provides much of the money necessary for colleges to offer on- and off-campus jobs to students with demonstrated need.

Financial Aid Package The Financial Aid Package tells you what grants, scholarships, loans and/or work-study monies your child has been awarded, and the amount of each.

Financial Aid PROFILE Service Some colleges use PROFILE, which is offered by the College Scholarship Service (CSS), to award their private funds. You register for PROFILE with the CSS, which sends you an application packet. Your student fills out the application and returns it to CSS, which forwards your information to the colleges of your child's choice.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) The FAFSA is the financial aid application used by all colleges. Available at most high schools and colleges, the FAFSA is completed and then returned to the U.S. Department of Education for evaluation in your child's senior year, as soon after January 1 as possible. This can be done by mail, or online at fafsa.ed.gov. The high school guidance office can provide more information.

Parental Contribution The portion of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) parents are expected to contribute toward college expenses. It's based on a variety of factors including income, family size and the number of family members in college.

Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) A federal loan for parents of college students, provided by the Federal Family Education Loan Program. To be eligible for a PLUS loan, you will usually be required to pass a credit check.

Pell Grants Awards made by the federal government that don't need to be paid back. The FAFSA serves as the Pell Grant application. Your eligibility depends on a formula set by Congress.

Perkins Loans Federal loans awarded by colleges as part of their total aid package. These loans must be paid back, but payments don't begin until nine months after your student leaves college. Colleges award these loans based on the information provided on the FAFSA.

Special Circumstances A college's financial aid administrator may consider special circumstances that could affect your EFC. These circumstances may include an unemployed parent, unusual medical or dental expenses, or tuition expenses for younger children in private school. Report any such conditions to the financial aid officer at the college(s) from which you're requesting aid.

Stafford Loans These are federal loans available through local lenders. There are two types of Stafford Loans. For the subsidized Stafford, recipients must demonstrate need, and they pay nothing on the loan while they're in school. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, meanwhile, are available to non-need students, but require recipients to pay interest while still in school unless the lender defers interest payment until later.

Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) SEOGs, part of the federal aid program, do not require repayment. They are made to students with exceptional financial need, as determined by the college.

Student Aid Report (SAR) About four weeks after mailing the FAFSA (or about one week if you file electronically), you'll receive a SAR. This report includes the information reported on the FAFSA, an opportunity to make corrections, and your EFC. The SAR guides financial aid officers in determining Federal Pell Grants.

Student Contribution The portion of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) that the student is expected to contribute toward college expenses. This calculation is based primarily on student income and asset information.

Supplemental Financial Aid Applications Many colleges, particularly private ones, require students to file an additional financial aid application along with the FAFSA. Some colleges provide their own form, while others use the Financial Aid PROFILE Service. It's best to check with each college to see which supplemental application, if any, is required.

Verification After sending in the FAFSA, students and parents may be required to provide copies of their income tax returns to the college. One reason the federal government requires this verification is that people often fill out the FAFSA before completing their tax returns and may base their figures on estimated information.

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