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1.  How can I tell if I'm eligible for financial aid?

2.  I probably don't qualify for aid. Should I apply for aid anyway?

3.  What does the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) cover?

4.  Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at a particular university?

5.  I missed my school's deadline for filing financial aid. What should I do?

6.  Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year?

7.  What's the best way to find out about scholarships?

8.  How do I apply for a Pell Grant and other types of need-based aid?

9.  Can I reject part of my financial aid package, and what happens if I do?

10.  I got an outside scholarship. Should I report it to the financial aid office?

11.  My parents' earnings for this year will be much lower than they were last year. Will colleges take that
       into consideration?

12.  What are GATE loans, and why doesn't my university participate?

13.  What is federal work study and how does it work?

14.  Can I declare financial independence from my parents?

15.  Are international students eligible for financial aid and scholarships?

1. How can I tell if I'm eligible for financial aid?
There are several online work sheets you can use to calculate a rough estimate of how much of your own money you'll be expected to put toward college, which is called your Expected Family Contribution or EFC. The EFC formula was established by Congress to determine a family's ability to contribute to the cost of a child's education. Both the College Board and Sallie Mae have EFC calculators available on their Web sites. To apply for financial aid, you'll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Find out if your college requires you to fill out the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE in addition to the FAFSA. The FAFSA is used to calculate a student's eligibility for federal aid programs; the PROFILE is used by institutions that have their own money to determine whether you are eligible for institution-based aid. If the school requires the PROFILE, the financial aid office will be delving deeper into your family finances. The school could want to see financial information for both parents, as well as any stepparents. The FAFSA is more lenient and only requires information on the custodial parent (and stepparent), plus any child support. You also need to find out what percentage of your financial need (established in your financial aid forms) each of the colleges will meet. Not many colleges will meet 100 percent of your demonstrated financial need. Don't forget to check with the school.

2. I probably don't qualify for aid. Should I apply for aid anyway?
Yes. Many families mistakenly think they don't qualify for aid, and prevent themselves from receiving financial aid by failing to apply for it. In addition, there are a few sources of aid such as unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans that are available regardless of is free. There is no good excuse for not applying.

3. What does the EFC cover?
The Expected Family Contribution is determined by the federal government. It is the amount your family contributes to your college education. When colleges establish a financial aid package for you, they balance your EFC with the total cost of attending the school, which includes tuition, fees, room and board, books, personal expenses, spending allowance, and travel allowance. Many colleges do not meet 100 percent of the need established in your financial aid form, which leaves you to pay your EFC and any gap between what the colleges offer and your EFC. You should check with all of the colleges that you are considering to see what percentage of need they will meet.

4. Do I need to be admitted before I can apply for financial aid at a particular university?
No. You can apply for financial aid any time after January 1. To actually receive funds, however, you must be admitted and enrolled at the university.

5. I missed my school's deadline for filing financial aid. What should I do?
Schools establish deadlines because they have to consider how many students need financial aid and how much money the school has to give. Some colleges give awards on a first-come, first-served basis. For those schools, the advantage goes to people who file their financial aid forms early. Other colleges use a preferential process for the most desirable candidates. Still others only meet a certain percentage of financial need so that they can offer some aid to all who qualify. Check to see how the school in question awards aid so that you can better understand the consequences of a late application. Also, ask the financial aid office directly if sending the form in late will be a problem.

6. Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year?
Yes. Most financial aid offices require that you apply for financial aid every year. If your financial circumstances change, you may get more or less aid. After your first year you will receive a "Renewal Application" which contains preprinted information from the previous year's FAFSA. Note that your eligibility for financial aid may change significantly, especially if you have a different number of family members in college. Renewal of your financial aid package also depends on your making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree, such as earning a minimum number of credits and achieving a minimum GPA.

7. What's the best way to find out about scholarships?
I suggest that you consult your guidance or career office to see what type of scholarship opportunities are available locally. Your best scholarship sources are local. These scholarships are from civic and other local and regional organizations. Federal scholarships are awarded solely on the basis of need as determined by your FAFSA. School scholarships may be need based or non-need based. Non-need-based scholarships, for example, may be based on academic achievement or athletic skill. There is a myth that there are billions of dollars in unclaimed scholarships every year. If there are unclaimed scholarships, then they most likely fall under the category of "unusual" conditions that few people meet. There are numerous free scholarship searches on the Web. A word of caution: Never pay for a scholarship search. The databases in the free searches are just as extensive as those in the paid searches. Before conducting your search, you should take a look at the Federal Trade Commission's site called Don't Get Scammed on Your Way to College. Finaid links to database searches on the Internet. In addition, U.S. News Online has a free scholarship search. If you are interested in college-based scholarships, that should be part of your research on the colleges. You should start looking into schools, and what kinds of funding they provide, no later than your junior year. Some colleges publish booklets or Web pages that outline all the scholarships they offer. Check with colleges you are considering to see if they have such information.

8. How do I apply for a Pell Grant and other types of need-based aid?
Submit a FAFSA. To indicate interest in student employment, student loans, and parent loans, you should check the appropriate boxes. Checking these boxes does not commit you to accepting these types of aid. You will have the opportunity to accept or decline each part of your aid package later. Leaving these boxes unchecked will not increase the amount of grants you receive.

9. Can I reject part of my financial aid package, and what happens if I do?
Most financial aid packages include work study and loans, which are called self-help funds. Often this is the portion of the package that families would like to reject. Keep in mind that it is the premise of the federal government that it is the family's responsibility, to the extent possible, to fund the student's education. The self-help portion of the aid package is an extension of that. If you choose to reject any portion of the aid package, it will be your responsibility to make up the difference. The college will not offer you other forms of aid to compensate for that loss.

10. I got an outside scholarship. Should I report it to the financial aid office?
Yes; if you are receiving any kind of financial aid from university or government sources, you must report the scholarship to the financial aid office. Unfortunately, the university will adjust your financial aid package to compensate. Nevertheless, the outside scholarship will have some beneficial effects. At some universities outside scholarships are used to reduce the self-help level. For example, at MIT 40% of the scholarship amount is applied toward the self-help level, and the rest replaces institutional funds. At other universities outside scholarships are used to replace loans instead of grants.

11. My parents' earnings for this year will be much lower than they were last year. Will colleges take that into consideration?
The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for the FAFSA is always calculated based on the family income and assets from the previous tax year. Each year, the student is required to file an update. Any time families think there are extenuating circumstances that could impact their ability to pay their EFC, they should send a letter to each college's financial aid office explaining those circumstances. The school can override the EFC calculation from your FAFSA at its discretion. It is not easy to get schools to override the EFC, because they have limited funds. It is, however, worth the effort if you think the FAFSA is not a true representation of your finances. Credit-card debt, large mortgage payments, or second homes generally will not earn you much sympathy; but extensive unexpected medical expenses or something of that nature could. If none of this works, there is always the PLUS loan–the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students. Your parents would have to take out the loan. You could also check with your financial aid officer to see what, if any, other types of loans might be available.

12. What are GATE loans, and why doesn't my university participate?
GATE loans is a nonprofit private loan program (Guaranteed Access to Education) offered through participating schools in conjunction with Bank of America, Bank of Boston, and the National Collegiate Trust (NCT). There is a minimal credit check and schools can recommend whatever loan amount they'd like the student to receive. The interest rate is also rather low. Students and parents should call 1-617-639-2000 for more information about the program (in New York, 1-212-551-3650). See also their entry in the lenders area of the Financial Aid Information Page. If this program is so wonderful -- no loan limit, no credit check, low interest rate -- why don't more schools participate? There are several reasons why a university might not want to participate in this program. There is some risk-sharing by the schools. As a result, the program will be most attractive to schools with a low default rate. The schools receive less than the full face value of the loans immediately, with the up-front amount depending on the school's default rate and the interest rate. In effect, the schools are providing part of the loan capital. There are no federal guidelines or regulations governing this loan program. Membership is not open to two-year colleges. Universities that are interested in participating in the GATE loan program should call 1-800-895-GATE (4283) and ask to speak to Kevin Walker or Thatcher Fields.

13. What is federal work study and how does it work?
Federal work study provides you with a job on or near campus. A student may work a maximum of 20 hours per week and will receive at least the federal minimum wage. You will receive a paycheck for the work you perform, up to the amount awarded in your financial aid package. That money goes directly to you for books, spending, and travel. You do not have to give the money back to the college unless your family has decided that part of the work study funds should be used to cover tuition costs.

14. Can I declare financial independence from my parents?
It is best to check the actual wording on the FAFSA, but essentially if a student can answer "yes" to one of the following, then he or she is independent. Were you born before Dec 31, 1975 (making you over 24)?
Will you be working on a degree beyond a bachelor's degree for the next school year?
As of today, are you married? (Separated counts as being married; divorced does not.)
Are you an orphan or ward of the court, or were you a ward of the court until age 18?
Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you? Or do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and receive more than half their support from you? Otherwise, the student is considered a dependent. It is difficult for a student to "declare" independence. If you don't fit any of the categories for independent status and you plan to pay for college yourself, then you will have to ask the school that you are attending to grant you an exception. That is not always easy to do, because the school needs to validate that you are truly on your own and supporting yourself. Keep in mind that it is not always to your advantage to apply as an independent student. Sometimes students qualify for more aid as a dependent student than as an independent.

15. Are international students eligible for financial aid and scholarships?
Your best source of funding in the United States will be the universities that accepted you. You are not eligible for any of the federal loan programs because they are reserved for U.S. citizens and those eligible non-citizens who have permanent residence in the United States. Scholarships are limited for international students, as well. You should be in contact with the universities to see what is available. One of the best resources is the International Student Handbook of U.S. Colleges from the College Board. The book describes financing college in the United States and lists colleges that offer financial assistance to international students. Finance yourself: Here are some of the ways you can finance your studies. Learn more about Student loans, part time On campus jobs, Summer Jobs, Scholarships & Bursaries and Co-Op Programs.