FAQs

  • My student lives with me but my former spouse claims him/her on the tax return. Can I be the custodial parent?

    Yes, in fact, who claims the student on a tax return has no real bearing on who is the custodial parent for financial aid purposes. The parent with whom the student lives with the majority of the time in the twelve months leading up to submitting the form is the custodial parent. Here is a link to a graphic that can help you determine who is should file the FAFSA. Remember, whoever is the custodial parent for FAFSA will also be the custodial parent for the CSS Profile purposes.

  • Someone told me that my student can be independent if I don’t claim him/her on my tax return. Is this true?

    No, this is not true. It is a common misconception that not claiming the student releases a parent from financial responsibility for college costs, where financial aid is concerned. To be considered independent for financial aid purposes a student must fall into a specific categories or have special, extenuating circumstances.

  • What are the deadlines for applying for financial aid?

    Here’s another instance where checking a college’s website is essential. Colleges set these submission deadlines. If a student is applying for early admissions and the CSS Profile form is required, expect an early deadline like October 31st or November 1st. The most common financial aid deadlines for regular admission applicants are February 1st, February 15th and March 1st, but check the website for each college. You don’t won’t to miss a deadline! And make are you comply with your state’s deadline and requirements as well to ensure full consideration for state aid.

  • How does the aid process work?

    Families file the financial aid form(s) and schools evaluate the student’s eligibility based upon that information, then create a financial aid package for eligible students.

  • How do I apply for the federal grants?

    The process of applying for federal grants is a simple as filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA form). By submitting a FAFSA, you will be considered for federal grants, loans and work-study. Additionally, most states will use the FAFSA and perhaps their own requirements to award state aid. Some colleges will use the information from your FAFSA as well to award the college’s own money.

  • How do I apply for the Cal Grant?

    To be considered for state grants in California (Cal Grants or the Middle Class Scholarship) both a FAFSA form listing at least one eligible California college or university and the GPA Verification form must be submitted no later than March 2nd of the senior year. Many colleges have earlier deadlines for the FAFSA, so don’t miss their deadlines

  • What about outside, private scholarships?

    Private scholarships represent a great opportunity to get funding for college costs especially for a student who has no demonstrated financial need or for one whose entire need is not met by the college. For the student that enrolls at a college that meets 100% of a student’s need, a private scholarship could potential reduce the amount of aid the student receives. This is because colleges consider private scholarships as a resource to meet need. In other words, your private scholarship reduces what they need to offer you. Some colleges will allow you to substitute a private scholarship for the loan you’re offered. That’s good, right? Check with your college(s) to ask about their policy.

  • What is need based aid?

    Need-based aid is financial assistance awarded to a student based upon a family’s ability to pay, as determined by a formula. The formula looks at income and assets of the parent(s) and student among other things to establish a family’s capacity to pay for college.

  • If I don’t qualify for need based aid, can we maybe we can get merit scholarships?

    That may be possible. Many colleges do offer merit aid. To have the best shot at receiving aid, check the college’s website. It’s not uncommon for a college to only consider a student for merit, if the admissions application is submitted prior to November 1st or December 1st. So, it can pay to not procrastinate!

    Keep in mind that many of the most selective colleges do not award any merit aid. While they are extremely generous with need-based aid, no money is available for “being really smart”. With competition for admissions as tough as it is, a college can make the case that every student accepted has merit. Check with your college before applying if you need financial help and won’t qualify for need-based aid.

  • How can I know which formula the school uses to determine financial aid eligibility?

    A good place to start is thefinancial aid section of a college’s website. A college that requires the FAFSA form only is using the federal methodology for calculating financial aid. Some colleges require the CSS Profile form and/ortheir own institutional form in addition to the FAFSA. These schools will typically use the institutional or consensus formulas.

  • Why are they counting my home equity? Do they expect me to sell my house to pay for college?

    I like to call the Expected Family Contribution or EFC a family’s “Estimated Family Capacity” to absorb costs. It’s really a measure of wealth. Colleges don’t expect you to “sell your house” or cash out your investments as we’ve often been asked. Frankly, they don’t care how you raise the funds and they are not making recommendations on how to pay the college bill. are merely assessing the family’s financial position. And, a case can been made that where two families have the same income yet one family owns a home with equity and the other rents, the homeowners are likely more financially stable and has more wealth. (Remember schools that only require the FAFSA form will not take the value of your primary residence into accounts when assessing your eligibility for aid.)

  • Will I be punished for saving money?

    This is a commonly held belief by many parents. Truth is because the formulas assess income more heavily that assets, this may or may not be an issue. For example, $10,000 of income can add up to $4,700 to your EFC. $10,000 in assets would add about $560. You’ll be expected to be contribute at least the total college cost or the EFC whether you have the assets or not. Wouldn’t it better to have at least some of the funds?

  • How can I get a list of colleges that discount tuition?

    There is no list per se. It requires diligent research. Regional colleges can be a good starting point.

  • How good are these schools that give discounts?

    I’ve never heard of them.
    While it’s true that many of the colleges offering tuition discounts might not be household names or be nationally known, it doesn’t autimatically follow that the quality of education is lacking. Whether it’s a “good” school will largely depend upon how well they fit the needs and criteria of the student.

  • My student doesn’t have a relationship with the non-custodial parent, but the college wants him/her to provide financial information. What can we do?

    Check the financial aid section of each college’s website that the student is considering. For colleges that only the require the FAFSA form, don’t worry. They will only be looking at the custodial parent’s information. The non-custodial parent will not need to be involved. If there are schools that require the CSS Profile, they may require the noncustodial parent to provide financial information before evaluating the student’s aid eligibility. If this is he case contact the college to obtaining a waiver of this requirement.

  • My student has a relationship with the non-custodial parent, but we know that he/she won’t contribute to college costs. What can we do?

    Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Create a college list of consisting of colleges that do not require the non-custodial parent’s information. A parent’s willingness or lack thereof is not enough to eliminate them from the process.

  • What is an EFC?

    The EFC or Expected Family Contribution is the least a family should expect to pay for college costs when qualifying for need-based aid. If a family’s EFC is greater than the total cost of attendance, a family will only be responsible for the actual cost.

  • How do you pay your EFC? Do I have to come up with all of the money at once?

    How you pay your EFC will vary based upon how much the direct costs (items billed directly by the school, like tuition and room & board) and how you intend to pay your portions. Many schools offer payment plans. Much of this information is available at the colleges website.

  • Can my student pay for college with student loans? How do we get them?

    Currently, the only Federal loan available to students is the Direct Student Loan, sometimes called the Stafford Loan. Given the maximum loan amount for a freshman is $5,500, it is not very realistic to expect a student to finance their education with federal student loans. The first step in taking federal loan is submitting a FAFSA students can seek private loans.

    To obtain loans beyond the federal limits, many banks and private groups offer private loans. As a rule, these private loans require a co-signer.

  • What if I want to take the loan instead of my child can I do that?

    Yes, eligible parents may be eligible for the PLUS loan (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students). The PLUS loan is a federally regulated loan available to parents that do not have adverse credit. The FAFSA form must be submitted to start the process of applying for this loan.

  • The college offered my student a loan but I don’t want my student to have any loans do I have to accept it?

    Absolutely not. Colleges will draw funding from the available programs to create a financial aid package for the student. The student can choose which funding he or she will accept. Simply reject the loan offered. Keep in mind that rejecting one type of funding will not suddenly make you eligible for more of another type. The colleges responsibility is to create a package. Refusing a loan means that’s a cost the family should expect to cover.

  • How can we find out more about outside scholarships?

    There are several good options. Check the resources section in of our site.

  • My student is a sophomore is it too early to start trying to figure out what college is going to cost?

    No it’s not too early. In fact given recent changes in the federal financial aid rules, you may be too late. On September 14, 2015, president Obama announced that beginning with the class of 2017, federal financial aid will be evaluated based on the income information from two years prior. The tax year from the start of a student’s sophomore year will be used to evaluate aid eligibility for the same student’s freshman year of college!

    Our feeling has always been that if the freshman year of high school is not too early to plan out the courses that will make the student a competitive admissions candidate at a certain type of school; it’s not too early to figure out what colleges might expect financially from the family.

  • How can I submit for financial aid forms in January if I haven’t gotten my taxes done yet?

    It is possible and suggested that families use a best guess estimate of their income on the FAFSA. Once your tax returns are completed, the FAFSA can be updated. Waiting to file the FAFSA could mean missing deadlines. Missed deadlines can mean lost aid. So, do your best to estimate.

  • I love as told I have to file the FAFSA on January 1st or we risk losing aid!

    For a family with a VERY LOW EFC or $0, filing on January 1st can help the student secure more/better aid. But for most families, filing by the deadlines set by the colleges on the student’s college list or your state’s deadline, whichever is earlier, is fine.

  • I’m retired, will the formulas to determine eligibility count my pension and Social Security benefits?

    The FAFSA does count pensions and taxable portions of social security benefits. Most are surprised to hear this. Non-taxable items may be assessed depending upon the source.

  • What can I get from filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?

    By filing the FAFSA, you will be considerd for all federal aid programs (grants, a student loan and work-study) and state aid programs. For many colleges, you will be considered for the institution’s own money as well.

  • Will the school contact us about any additional requirements they require from us?

    Typically, colleges post the requirements and their website and you are expected to provide all required documents at the appropriate time. Some college will email reminders to you, but don’t rely on that because not all schools do.

  • My situation is complicated how can I explain it on the FAFSA form?

    There is really no where to provide any additional information on the FAFSA. Your best bet is to contact the college, explain the situation and learn the next steps.

  • Does FAFSA ask about my living expenses, like house payments or rent?

    No, it doesn’t ask about any expenses. The formula has pre-set amounts allotted for living expenses for parents and children than will remain at home.

  • Do I have to count the value of my car(s)?

    No, the value of personal property is not included.

  • What’s wrong with using the calculators on the college websites?

    A good net price calculator can be very valuable, but it is not unusual for find a net price calculator on a website that doesn’t even use the formula actually used by the colleges financial aid office. My experience is that they are most valuable for estimating need as a non-resident attending a state college or university.

  • So we should just wait until we find out which schools our student is accepted to before we apply for financial aid?

    NOOOOOO! Most decisions are delivered between mid to late March and early April. Waiting to file for financial aid until that time can have devastating consequences:
    1) you may not receive funds because the aid as run out and
    2) if aid is still available, you may not receive an aid offer before having to make a decision about attending.

  • My child goes to private school and they have a special college counseling office. Can’t they take care of all our needs

    We have found that the financial aid offices at many of the private schools are very well versed in colleges admissions. But most are no comfortable delving into the financial side of college with students and their parents. Working with an aid consulting can be an excellent complement to a high school counselor. Together they can search for the intersection of colleges the student wants and colleges that the fmily can afford.

  • My friend is an accountant and said he can help me get financial aid without hiring a college planner. Is this true?

    It is a common misconception that getting financial aid is easy. For many, filling out the forms can be confusing and complicated. And, while the forms can be completed by anyone, it takes a highly qualified professional to identify and resolve problem areas that can increase your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution), to know which schools are historically aid-generous and match your child’s interests, and to maximize financial aid awards.

    Help, I’m trying to use the Data Retrieval Tool but it won’t work.

  • My grandchild lives with me and is now applying to college. Will I have to supply information about my finances?

    A grandparent only needs to use their own financial information if they have legally adopted the student.

  • What happens if I refuse to provide my financial information.

    In most cases when a parent refuses to provide financial data the student will not receive financial aid. Not completing the aid process blocks the student from receiving aid.

  • I paid my way through college. Why can’t my kid?

    Some parents feel their student should pay for college on their own like a parent may have done. Unfortunately, this is not usually realistic. College costs have skyrocketed over the last thirty years and student wages have not kept pace. Given that the maximum federal loan for a freshman is $5,500, where will the rest of the money come from?

  • How do students end up in so much debt if the federal loan maximum is $5,500 for a freshman?

    We believe it starts with not picking affordable colleges from the onset, ignoring the aid eligibility or not finding it out early in the process. Faced with having to make a final decision very quickly after the acceptance comes, the family usually borrows more than they should. The usual sources are private loans. These loans almost always require a co-signer. (Usually a parent).

    Another reason students end up with loads of debt is loans taken to cover graduate school education expenses.