The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) determines your eligibility for the following major student financial aid (SFA) programs:
(see types for more details)
Federal Pell Grants
Federal Stafford Loans
Federal PLUS Loans
Federal Consolidation Loans
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
Federal Work-Study (FWS)
Federal Perkins Loans
Grants are financial aid you don't have to pay back.
Work-Study lets you work and earn money to help pay for school.
Loans are borrowed money that you must repay with interest.
Undergraduates may receive all three types of financial aid. Graduate students may receive loans or Federal Work-Study, but not Federal Pell Grants or FSEOG. Not all schools take part in all the programs. To find out which ones are available at a particular school, contact the financial aid office.
To receive aid from the major student aid programs discussed in the Guide, you must:
- have financial need, except for some loan programs. (See below.)
- have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate,
- pass a test approved by the U.S. Department of Education, or meet other standards your state establishes that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education. See your financial aid administrator for more information.
- be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program. (You may not receive aid for correspondence or telecommunications courses unless they are part of an associate, bachelor's, or graduate degree program.)
- be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen.
- have a valid Social Security Number.
- make satisfactory academic progress.
- sign a statement of educational purpose and a certification statement on overpayment and default (both found on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)).
- register with the Selective Service, if required.
Aid from most of the major programs discussed in the Guide is awarded on the basis of financial need (except for unsubsidized Stafford, all PLUS and Consolidation loans).
When you apply for federal student aid, the information you report is used in a formula, established by the U.S. Congress, that calculates your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward your education. If your EFC is below a certain amount, you'll be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant, assuming you meet all other eligibility requirements.
There isn't a maximum EFC that defines eligibility for the other financial aid programs. Instead, your EFC is used in an equation to determine your financial need:
Cost of attendance
- Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
= Financial Need
Your financial aid administrator (FAA) calculates your cost of attendance (COA), and subtracts the amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward that cost. If there's anything left over, you're considered to have financial need. In determining your need for aid from the SFA programs, your FAA must first consider other aid you're expected to receive.
Your FAA can adjust the EFC formula's data elements or adjust your COA if he or she believes your family's financial circumstances warrant it based on the documentation you provide. However, the FAA does not have to make such an adjustment. See Special Circumstances for more information.
You can get a booklet called the "Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Formulas," which describes how the EFC formulas are calculated, by writing to:
Federal Student Aid Information Center
P.O. Box 84
Washington, DC 20044
When you apply for federal student aid, your answers to certain questions will determine whether you're considered dependent on your parents -- and must report their income and assets as well as your own -- or whether you're independent and must report only your own income and assets (and those of your spouse, if you're married).
Students are classified as dependent or independent because federal student aid programs are based on the idea that students (and their parents or spouse, if applicable) have the primary responsibility for paying for their postsecondary education. Students who have access to parental support (dependent students) should not receive need-based federal funds at the expense of students who do not have such access (independent students).
You're an independent student if at least one of the following applies to you:
you were born before January 1, 1974;
you're enrolled in a graduate or professional educational program;
you have legal dependents other than a spouse;
you're an orphan or ward of the court (or were a ward of the court until age 18);
you're a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
If you claim to be an independent student, your school may ask you to submit proof before you can receive any federal student aid. If you think you have unusual circumstances that would make you independent even though none of the above criteria apply to you, talk to your aid administrator. He or she can change your status if he or she thinks your circumstances warrant it based on the documentation you provide. But remember, the aid administrator won't automatically do this. That decision is based on his or her judgment, and it's final--you can't appeal it to the U.S. Department of Education.
If you did not apply for federal student aid for the 1996-97 school year, you can apply for federal aid for the 1997-98 school year either by completing and mailing the 1997-98 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), by applying electronically (through your school), or by using the U.S. Department of Education's new FAFSA Express software. You can get a FAFSA from your school or from the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
If you did apply for federal student aid for the 1996-97 school year, you probably will be able to file a 1997-98 Renewal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Renewal FAFSA). You'll either receive it at your home address or from your school. (You may also be able to file a Renewal FAFSA electronically.) Not all schools have electronic application capability; check with your school or the schools that interest you.
If you qualify to use the Renewal FAFSA, you'll have fewer questions to answer. Most of the information on the form will be preprinted and will be the same as the information you gave in 1996-97 (plus any of your corrections that were processed). You'll only have to write in some new information and information that has changed since 1996-97 (for example, family size). Check with your aid administrator if you have questions about the Renewal FAFSA.
For most of the federal student aid programs, the FAFSA (or Renewal FAFSA) is the only form you need to file. To receive a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Stafford Loan or a PLUS Loan, you will have to complete additional forms.
Remember, applying for federal student aid is FREE.
However, to be considered for nonfederal aid, such as institutional aid, you may have to fill out additional forms and pay a processing fee. Check with your school to see which nonfederal application to fill out, if any.
Read the instructions carefully when you complete the FAFSA or the Renewal FAFSA. Most mistakes are made because students don't follow instructions. Pay special attention to any questions on income, because most errors occur in this area.
When you apply, you should have certain records on hand. These records are listed on the application. You should save all records and all other materials used in completing the application because you may need them later to prove that the information you reported is correct. This process is called verification.
If verification is required, and you don't provide it, you won't receive aid from the SFA programs, and you might not receive aid from other sources. You should make a photocopy of your application before you submit it. This way, you have a copy of the data you submitted for your own records. So be sure you keep all documents, and that the information you report is accurate!
Apply as soon AFTER January 1, 1998 as possible. (You can't apply before this date.) It's easier to complete the application when you already have your tax return, so you may want to consider filing your taxes as early as possible. Do not sign, date, or send your application before January 1, 1998. If you apply by mail, send your completed application using the envelope that came with it. It is already addressed, and using it will ensure that your application reaches the correct address.
NOTE: You must reapply for federal aid every year. Also, if you change schools, your aid doesn't go with you. Check with your new school to find out what steps you must take to continue receiving aid.
If you did apply for federal student aid for the 1996-97 school year, you probably will be able to file a 1997-98 Renewal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Renewal FAFSA). You'll either receive it at your home address or from your school. You may also be able to file a Renewal FAFSA electronically. Currently, there is no "renewal" version of FAFSA Express. If you want to apply using FAFSA Express, you must complete the entire FAFSA Express program each year regardless of how you originally applied.
If you qualify to use the Renewal FAFSA, you'll have fewer questions to answer. Most of the information on the form will be preprinted and will be the same as the information you gave in 1996-97 (plus any of your corrections that were processed). You'll only have to write in some new information and information that has changed since 1996-97 (for example, family size). Check with your financial aid administrator if you have questions about the Renewal FAFSA.
If you apply by mail, your application will be processed in approximately four weeks. Then, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) in the mail. The SAR will report the information from your application and, if there are no questions or problems with your application, your Expected Family Contribution (the number used in determining your eligibility for federal student aid). Each school you listed on the application may also receive your application information if the school participates electronically.
If you apply electronically, your application will be processed in about a week. The results will be sent electronically to your school. You'll also receive a SAR in the mail.
When you receive the SAR, you must review it carefully to make sure it's correct. If any changes are necessary, your school may submit the corrections electronically, or, if you applied by mail, you may make corrections on Part 2 of the SAR and return it to the address given at the end of Part 2.
If the data are correct and you don't need to make changes, you can receive financial aid on the basis of that information. If your school has not received your application information electronically, you must take your SAR to the school.
If it's been more than four weeks since you mailed in your application and you haven't heard anything, you can check on your application by calling 1-319-337-5665 (Monday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time). Or, you can write to:
Federal Student Aid Information Center
P.O. Box 84
Washington, DC 20044
You can also use this phone number and address to request a duplicate copy of your SAR, or you can request a duplicate copy by writing to the address given at the end of Part 2 of the SAR. You'll receive the duplicate SAR in 2-3 weeks.
If you write, make sure you include in your letter your full name, permanent address, Social Security Number, date of birth, and signature.
Your duplicate SAR will be sent to the address you reported on your application. If your address has changed since then, you can correct your address by writing to the FAFSA processor where you sent your application or to the Federal Student Aid Information Center at the address given above. You can't change your address over the phone because your signature is required.
Although the process of determining a student's eligibility for federal student aid is basically the same for all applicants, there is some flexibility. For instance, if your financial aid administrator (FAA) believes it's appropriate, based on the documentation you provided, he or she can change your status from dependent to independent.
In some cases, your FAA may adjust your cost of attendance (COA) or the income information used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to take into account circumstances that might affect the amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward your education. These circumstances could include a family's unusual medical or dental expenses, or tuition expenses for children attending a private elementary or secondary school. Also, an adjustment may be made if you, your spouse, or either of your parents (if applicable) have been recently unemployed. If conditions such as these apply to you or your family, contact your FAA.
Check with your FAA if you feel you have any other special circumstances that might affect the amount you and your family are expected to contribute. But remember, there have to be very good reasons for the FAA to make any adjustments, and you'll have to provide adequate proof to support those adjustments. Also, remember that the FAA's decision is final and cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.
Whether you apply electronically or by mail, your application must be received by the application processor by
June 30, 1998 for the 1997-98 school year.
THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS DEADLINE.
Apply as soon AFTER January 1, 1998 as you can. (Do not sign, date, or send your application before this date.) Schools often set deadlines early in the calendar year. Students must meet these deadlines to receive certain types of funds, including Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Work-Study, and Federal Perkins Loan program funds.
Your correct, complete application information must be at your school by your last day of enrollment in 1997-98 or by August 31, 1998, whichever is earlier (see your FAA). If your school has not received your application information electronically, you must submit your SAR to the school by the appropriate deadline. Be sure you know your last day of enrollment in 1997-98--it may be earlier than August 31.
NOTE: If you're selected for verification, additional deadlines apply to you. Your financial aid administrator can tell you what they are.
If you need answers right away to questions about federal student aid, call the appropriate number listed below at the Federal Student Aid Information Center between 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday: 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), this is a toll-free number.
The Information Center will:
assist you in completing the FAFSA
tell you whether a school participates in the federal student aid
programs, and that school's default rate.
explain federal student aid eligibility requirements.
explain the process of determining financial need and awarding aid.
send federal student aid publications to you.
Call this number at the Information Center if you want to find out if your federal student financial aid application has been processed or if you want a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR). Please note that you'll have to pay for this call. Collect calls cannot be accepted, and this service is not available on the toll-free number given above.
If you're hearing-impaired you may call this toll-free TDD number at the Information Center for help with any federal student aid questions you may have.
If you have reason to suspect any fraud, waste, or abuse involving federal student aid funds, you may call this toll-free number, which is the hotline to the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General's office. You may remain anonymous, if you wish.