Financial Aid Basics

When other sources of financial aid don’t meet or cover your unique needs, CHESLA can help!

Financial aid can be a big help in paying for college. An application for financial aid must be filed each year. Apply even if you think you will not qualify. Make sure that you meet the application deadline and that you give complete and accurate information on your application. Financial aid funds are limited and errors or missed deadlines may limit the amount of aid you receive.

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Student Loan Basics

What to Know Before You Borrow a College Student Loan

Most people use a combination of savings, income and loans to pay their college costs. Consider all your options before borrowing money that you will have to repay with interest over a specific time period. If you decide to borrow to cover part of your education expenses, educate yourself first and remember to maximize federal student loans before you take out private loans.

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Types of Financial Aid

  • Grants and Scholarships: Gift aid that does not have to be repaid, and may include federal grants, state grants, institutional aid based on merit or financial need, and local scholarships.
  • Work-Study: Federal and institutional work-study programs allow students to work part-time on or near campus while in college.
  • Parent and Student Loans: Loans are available for parents and students and may come from the federal government or private lenders.

The Aid Process

Different colleges and universities require different financial aid applications. All use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Additionally, some use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® and the college’s own financial aid application. Check the website for the schools you like to determine which forms you need to file and when they are due. Give yourself the time needed to fill them out. Waiting until the last minute may result in errors or delayed filing.

The FAFSA is a federal form used to determine eligibility for federal and state aid. It gathers income and asset information on parents and the student. This information is then used to calculate the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Each college determines eligibility for financial aid by subtracting EFC from the Cost of Attendance (COA). The Cost of Attendance varies at each college or university and includes that school’s tuition and fees, room and board, and estimates for books and supplies, travel and personal expenses. Therefore, while EFC stays the same, each college’s cost is different resulting in differing amounts of aid awarded. If an EFC is not sufficient to pay the full COA, the student is deemed to have financial need and the school will try to put together a financial aid package that includes state, federal and campus provided aid.

Applying for Aid

Determine what forms and deadlines are required at each of the schools you are considering.

File the FAFSA. This may be done each year beginning October 1.

Your Aid Package

Once you have been accepted for admission and have filed the necessary financial aid applications, you will get a financial aid award letter from the college. Review the award letters you receive and ask the campus financial aid office for clarification if you need it. Be sure to let the financial aid staff know if your family’s financial situation changes.

Check out the CHESLA Loan if you find that you need additional funding to pay your bill.

Financial Aid FAQs

Applying for Financial Aid

How do I know which financial aid applications are required at my prospective colleges and universities?
Every college and university has different requirements for which financial aid applications need to be filed. Three of the most common forms are the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, and the college’s own financial aid applications. Check with each of your prospective colleges for their specific application requirements.
How much does it cost to apply?
The FAFSA is a free application, and is required by all colleges for federal and state financial aid. The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® has a cost associated, but the application fee may be waived for families with high financial need.
My financial aid applications are due before I was able to file my taxes. What can I do?
If your federal tax forms will not be completed before the earliest college deadline, you’ll need to submit estimated numbers. The colleges will base their tentative financial aid award on your estimates. You may update your financial aid applications once you’ve completed your federal taxes. The award won’t be considered final until you have produced final tax documents.
Whose information is included on the FAFSA?

Most high school seniors are considered dependent students and are required to provide parental information along with their own. Parents may be biological or adoptive, and further instructions differ depending on the family situation:

  • Married: both parents provide information.
  • Single or widowed: that parent provides information. If remarried, include step-parent’s information.
  • Divorced/separated: the parent that the student lived with more during the prior 12 months provides information. If that parent is remarried, include step-parent’s information. Non-custodial information is not currently required for the FAFSA, but may be requested by some colleges that use the CSS/Financial Aid Profile.
  • Court-appointed legal guardian or foster parent: no parental information is currently required. Student is considered independent.
How is real estate included on the FAFSA?
The family’s primary residence is not included on the FAFSA, but any other property is considered an asset. In the case of a multi-family unit, where the family lives in one of those units, the net value (market value of the property minus any debt) of the rental units would be reported as assets.
How are college savings accounts treated?

College savings accounts are reported as assets of the owner. If the owner is a dependent student, the accounts are reported as the parent’s assets.

Where do I enter my debt information?
Consumer debt (credit cards, auto loans, etc) and lines of credit (unused, available credit) are not factored into the calculation of financial aid eligibility. If, however, a family is reporting information about home equity, then they would factor in the balance on any home equity lines of credit when calculating the net equity in the property.

Keep in mind that the FAFSA does not ask any questions about the primary home. If parents decide to pursue a parent loan to help finance their share of the educational expenses, then the lender would access the borrower’s credit record to determine eligibility for educational loans. But colleges themselves do not access or use this information when preparing a financial aid award.

Why do I need a PIN for the FAFSA?
Your PIN, also known as a Personal Identification Number, acts as an electronic signature that is used for verification upon completing your FAFSA online. Filing online instead of submitting a paper application is faster, may simplify your application based on your responses to certain questions and reduces errors.
How do I submit the FAFSA to more than 10 colleges?
Wait until the student receives the processed Student Aid report (SAR) to confirm that the originally listed colleges received your information. Then login to the FAFSA Web site and delete the necessary number of school codes to add the new school codes.
If I file the FAFSA on paper, will I need a PIN?

No, you don’t need a PIN to file the paper FAFSA. However, you will be assigned a PIN when you receive your Student Aid Report. You may use this number to access your FAFSA online and make changes if needed.

Do I have to file the CSS PROFILE® online?
If the CSS PROFILE® is required by your college, it must be filed online.

General Questions

Is it true that the most expensive colleges offer the most financial aid?

All colleges and universities, regardless of their cost, offer financial aid, and some are even able to meet your full need. While the cost of attendance varies from college to college, each financial aid office will typically use the same EFC from your FAFSA as the basis for calculating financial need. Keep in mind that different financial aid awarding policies make it difficult to predict which college will be the most affordable for your family.

If I get an outside scholarship, will a college reduce my financial aid?
You MUST report scholarships to colleges and universities. Colleges will include them as part of an overall aid package such that the student’s total aid does not exceed the cost of attendance. (By law, the cost of attendance is the maximum amount of aid a student can receive, regardless of the source.) The treatment of outside scholarships varies by institution so be sure to ask the financial aid office how it will affect your aid package.
Should I pay a financial aid consultant to help me?
Most financial aid professionals and guidance counselors recommend not paying for services related to financial aid. Information about finding scholarships, applying for aid, and completing applications is available for FREE. See your high school counselor about local financial aid resources.

After You Apply

What should I expect once I file the FAFSA?

Soon after you file, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that tells you your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). When the college receives your FAFSA, the financial aid office will review your information and determine what financial aid they can award you. The college may request certain documents as part of their verification process of the information you provided on the FAFSA. Keep copies of all your year-end documents.

When should I expect to see my financial aid award letters in the mail?
Many colleges send financial aid award letters to accepted applicants throughout March and April. These letters indicate the types and amounts of financial aid a student can expect to receive if they attend that particular college or university.
Once I get all my financial aid award letters, what should I do?
Carefully review each award letter and make sure you understand all aspects of your award, including the types and sources of aid. Contact the financial aid office if you need more information or clarification about their offer, and be sure to communicate with the college if your financial situation changes.
How do I let colleges know once I’ve made a decision about where to enroll?
Most colleges and universities have a deadline of May 1, and require a deposit to confirm your commitment. You should also notify the financial aid office at your chosen college that you accept any financial aid offer you have received from them. If you wish to decline or reduce the amount of an offer, loan, or work-study job, be sure to inform the financial aid office. Once you have firmly decided which college you will attend, you need to formally decline your acceptances from other colleges.

Student Loan Basics

The following are some important concepts to understand when evaluating college loans:

Fixed vs. Variable Interest Rate: Fixed interest rates do not change over the life of a loan, which means you pay the same amount each month. Variable interest rates change over time in line with market interest rates.

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): The APR reflects the total cost of borrowing money over the life of the loan, considering not only the interest rate but also the effect of other fees on the total cost of repaying the amount financed.

Immediate or Deferred Repayment: The interest rate of your loan may vary depending on whether you repay the loan immediately or wait until after graduation to start repaying.

Tiered Pricing: Tiered pricing means that interest rates depend on your credit. The advertised lowest interest rate may only be available to those with exceptional credit, and higher rates and fees may apply to those with fair to average credit ratings.