Frequently Asked Questions

As you search for an institution that meets all of your academic and financial needs, consider the value of attending a private institution. National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) debunks nine myths about private nonprofit higher education, including misconceptions about cost, student aid, and postsecondary outcomes. Despite the myth that a college degree is no longer a good investment, postsecondary education is increasingly valuable in today’s workplace. By 2018, 63% of American jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. The median life earnings for bachelor’s degree holders are $2.3 million, while workers with only high school diplomas earn $1.3 million. Data show the academic and financial benefits of attending private institutions for students from racially, ethnically, and economically diverse backgrounds.

Private colleges respond to the changing needs of students from all backgrounds through expanding flexible learning models, online courses, and hybrid programs, as well as offering degree and certificate programs for adult learners. Private colleges improve accessibility of higher education through generous student aid policies and academic support, as well as outreach programs to help students of all backgrounds realize the opportunities available at private institutions. For more information, visit Use the links on the sidebar to access questions and answers that are the product of cIcu events, which address planning and paying for college.


Admission to and Applying to College

Q: How many schools should a student apply to?

A: That’s going to vary from student to student. It’s really about you, it’s about what you’re interested in, and how many offerings and how many opportunities there are at colleges either nearby or far afield. It’s really going to be an individual choice. By the time you get to the beginning of your senior year in high school I would think that you might have anywhere from five to seven colleges you’re really interested in.


Q: How many essays do you have to write for college?

A: The number of essays will depend on each college/university’s admissions application, and the number of colleges that you apply to.


Q: What do you apply for first, the college(s) or financial aid?

A: Typically, a student applies for admission into a college/university in the fall of their senior year of high school. Students and their parents/guardians then complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), after January 1st of your senior year.  However, you can apply for private scholarships through local organizations (Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.), your parent/guardian’s employer (if they offer scholarships to employee’s dependents), or through other philanthropic organizations prior to completing the FAFSA.

Once a student receives admission to the college/university to which they applied, they will then receive that institution’s financial aid paperwork necessary to complete their financial aid package.


Q: How do I decide which college is right for me?

A: Finding the right “fit” is essential to success in college. Deciding what that fit is will depend on a student’s answer to many questions. Does the college/university offer the program that you are interested in studying? What type of campus setting would you be most comfortable in – Urban? Rural? Do you want to attend a large university, or a smaller college or university? Does the college or university offer a financial aid package that meets the family’s needs?

To answer these questions, the best thing that a student can do is to visit the colleges that interest you.  By setting foot on a college campus, you can see yourself in that environment and reflect on how you feel after the visit. Was the campus too large? Too far from home? You may feel right at home during the entire experience. This is an extremely crucial piece to the college search process.


Q: How can I explore majors that might interest me?

A: There are a number of ways to do this. The easiest way is to take a look at the catalogue (usually online) of a few of your choices. Read through the course descriptions and pick out those that interest you. There are also some great websites that can help you do this as well. “Big Future” is one that can help you begin this process ( There is no rush to pick out a major. Most colleges ask you to wait until the end of your sophomore year. That gives you two years of trying different disciplines.


Q: How do I apply to colleges – does every college have the same application?

A: It is going to depend on the college or university a student applies to. Most colleges and universities offer their admission application in an online format. A student creates an “account” through the college/university admissions website, and can complete and submit the application online (recommendations or other references will mostly likely be mailed to the admission office if part of the required materials). If a student prefers to complete a paper application and mail the completed forms back to the institution, call the admission office to see if that option is available, and what steps need to be taken.

There are many colleges and universities that participate in the Common Application.  This national, centralized application system allows students to complete the majority of the admission application once, and use that single application to apply to several participating institutions. Several institutions also require a Supplement with questions unique to that college/university, to be completed as well. For more information and to see what colleges/universities participate in the Common Application, visit

The Universal College Application is another centralized application system used by a few dozen colleges and universities nationwide. For more information and to see the colleges and universities that participate in the Universal Application, visit


Q: If you graduate in January, can you still apply to college even though the deadline has passed?

A: There are many colleges and universities that have what is called rolling admissions. Institutions that offer a rolling admission deadline accept applications up to the start of the academic year, depending on the space they have available in certain programs or rooms available in dorms (if the student is planning to live on campus).


Q: How do application fee waivers work?

A: Admission application fee waivers allow a student to apply to a college or university for free, if that institution has an application fee (fees vary from college to college, and can range up to $100 in some instances). Many colleges and universities waive the admission application fee if a student completes the admission application online. Many colleges also offer a fee waiver during a campus visit or tour to be used when the student applies to that institution. 

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) provides a form called the "Request for Application Fee Waiver" to be completed by students with the help of their high school counselor. Although most colleges follow the general guidelines of the NACAC and College Board for determining fee waiver recipients, individual institutions' policies vary. Research the policies of the colleges being applied to, especially state institutions or systems as they may have their own forms and income guidelines. If students meet the basic criteria of an institution, it's almost certain a fee waiver will be granted.


Q: How can I obtain vouchers for college applications? 

A: If necessary, ask each admission office for a waiver of the application fee. Waivers can be automatic if the financial aid office asks you to fill out the CSS Profile application. If not, contact the financial aid office and request a fee waiver code. Remember, the FAFSA is free.


Q: The career I want to achieve isn’t available in many public colleges. Is it better if I apply to a private college instead?

A: Finding the right college or university “fit” that offers the program that you are interested in is one of the most important factors in deciding which college to attend. See above about finding the right college.


Q: Is it better to go to college out of state or in state?

A: That depends. New York State resident students who attend a college or university in New York State may be eligible for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides up to $5,165 in grant aid for up to 4 years (or 5 years for certain programs) of full-time enrollment. A NYS resident student cannot take this TAP grant award if enrolled in a college or university outside of NYS. Financial aid aside, if students find the desired program of study and “fit” at a college or university out-of-state, they must do what is best for them and their education.


Q: What is the difference between public and private colleges other than the tuition?

A: It’s who’s paying the bill. A public university is subsidized by the state in which that university is located; it’s subsidized by the state government. SUNY and CUNY are subsidized by the state of New York. Because we’re private, we do not receive that type of subsidy to help our colleges. Instead, we rely more on endowments, grants, and private donations so we are private schools without the state subsidy.


Q: What college would you recommend for someone who got 1100 on the SAT? 

A: SATs or ACTs are just one of the many things about you that some colleges look at in your admission application. Try using a college search website (e.g., or and putting this variable in as one of your criteria.


Q: What if no college accepts you?

A: Make sure you have “safety” schools on your list. A safety school is one where you are most likely to be admitted. Talk with your school counselor about your list. They are very knowledgeable about helping you create a well-rounded list. Community College is another way for you to begin your college career.


Q: Would you recommend a smaller college to a student with poor academic performance who still wants to attend college?

A: Probably. A smaller college allows you more opportunities for individual attention.


Q: I am a student who plays four sports (volleyball, softball, track, and basketball) and maintains a 90.92% average. Would colleges be interested in me?

A: Do you want to play sports while in college? If so, are you ready to commit to the rigorous schedule of a Division I athlete? If not, there are plenty of opportunities to play sports at most colleges. Check out their websites for more information about what league or division they play.


Q: To enter a college of nursing, do you have to take SAT subject tests? 

A: You’ll need to check with each nursing program you are interested in attending. This requirement varies from place to place.


Q: What is the minimum GPA requirement at college?

A: This varies from college to college. Check with them individually.


Q: Do colleges accept students based on a number of factors?

A: Yes. The factors will vary from college to college but generally they are looking to make sure you are a good fit and likely to graduate from their program.


General Questions About Financial Aid

Q: Can you summarize what financial aid is?

A: Financial aid is any grant or scholarship, loan, or paid employment offered to help a student meet his/her college expenses. Such aid is usually provided by various sources such as federal and state agencies, colleges, high schools, foundations, and corporations.


Q: What is the most important piece of advice about applying and paying for college that you have for students and families as they undertake applying to college?

A: Before you apply to the colleges that interest you (always meet the application deadlines), the most important step in the financial aid process is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is the key to determining a student’s eligibility for the majority of federal, state and institutional grants, scholarships and loans.


Q: How do I apply for financial aid?

A: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key to determining a student’s eligibility for the majority of federal, state and institutional grants, scholarships, and loans. Learn more about the FAFSA at

New York State resident students who plan on attending a college or university in New York State should also apply for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) either by completing the application directly from the FAFSA online submission page, or through TAP on the Web at

Some colleges and universities require that students complete the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to determine eligibility for institutional grants. The PROFILE can be found at There is a fee for filing this form.

Finally, some colleges and universities have their own college-specific financial aid forms used to award institutional grants and scholarships (funds from the college). Be sure to check with the college to ensure you are completing all forms necessary to be considered for all aid for which you might be eligible.


Q: How early should I submit the financial aid application? I’m a senior.

A: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be completed as soon as possible after January 1 of a student’s senior year in high school. Students may learn about and explore private scholarships through or Watch the deadlines as they are different for each scholarship application.


Q: How should students begin a conversation about the cost of college with parents?

A: It is important to stay focused on the academic and social qualities each college offers you. If these two attributes fit you then the finances will follow. In other words, the better fit you are for any college then the financial aid will reflect this in scholarships or merit aid.


Q: What can you do if you take out a student loan but can’t find a job after you graduate?

A: Great news! You will not be asked to pay more than 10% of your monthly net pay if you opt into the “Pay as You Go” program.


Q: Do you have to pay back financial aid in the future?

A: Some financial aid does have to be repaid. If a student or parents/guardians took out any loans to finance college, those have to be paid back following the terms agreed to when you received the loan.

There are some scholarships or grants that are tied to service (e.g., teaching for a length of time at a high-need school), GPA or program completion. If the terms of a grant or scholarship are not met, it may become a loan and then have to be repaid. The consequences depend on the particular scholarship or grant.


Q: Is there a difference in aid as the student progresses through college? For example: more up front in early years, less in later years. Can I anticipate a vast drop after the first year?

A: Changes in the family situation – loss of a job, increased income, divorce, or a second child in college, can affect a student’s financial aid package down the road. Also, if the student does not maintain good academic standing (by failing a lot of courses) or is not making the necessary progress toward a degree, called Satisfactory Academic Progress, that student risks losing eligibility to receive federal and/or state financial aid.


Q: What happens if college costs more than you can afford, even with financial aid?

A: Help your college of choice understand why you are struggling to afford it. Be sure to provide financial details in your letter of appeal.


Q: Does financial aid pay all your college tuition if your parents don’t get income or get government help?

A: Having no income, or if the family is on public assistance, will qualify a student for the maximum award levels for many student aid programs. If the federal and state grant programs do not cover the complete cost of attendance at a college or university, institutional aid (aid directly from the college or university) may cover most if not all of the remaining balance. Institutional aid is not limitless – students must apply early as the funds are often awarded to those who apply before the application’s deadline.


Q: Does every college give you the same amount of financial aid?

A: No. The only thing that remains the same from college to college is the Family Expected Contribution (EFC) as generated from the information provided by the student and family on the FAFSA. The EFC is used to calculate how much financial aid a student is eligible for, and in the case of the federal Pell Grant, the award amount is also dependent on how much the cost is to attend the college.

In terms of the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), the award amount is determined by a family’s NYS Net Taxable Income, and is calculated using the information the student and family provided on the FAFSA. The TAP award amount will remain the same from college to college.

Lastly, each college and university has a limited amount of their own funds to award as institutional scholarships and grants. Some institutions have more for grants and scholarships than others, meaning larger and/or more awards available.


Q: How much money can you get from financial aid?

A: The total amount of financial aid will vary from student to student, and college to college. 


Q: What are the biggest financial aid programs that families should know about?

A: Among the most important federal financial aid programs (aid that can be used at any college or university in the nation) for college students are the Federal Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Work-Study and Federal Direct Loans.

Students interested in becoming elementary or secondary school teachers can apply for the TEACH Grant (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education).

The Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Direct Loan, and Federal PLUS Loan programs are available to students and/or parents/guardians who need to borrow money for their education. Federal education loans generally offer better terms for repayment and forgiveness of debt than do private loans.

The most important aid program for New York State resident students attending college in New York State is the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grant. TAP awards, ranging up to $5,165 per academic year, can be used toward tuition only. Families can find out about TAP and other state grants, scholarships, and awards at

Students and their families are eligible for an American Opportunity Tax Credit of $2,500 for college-related expenses if their annual income is below $90,000 (for a single parent) or $180,000 (for a couple). They may also be eligible for a student loan deduction and a tuition and fees deduction. More information about tax credits and deductions can be found at

New York State also offers college tuition tax credits and deductions. For more information, go to

Finally, New York’s 529 College Savings Program offers tax deductions on contributions to this saving-for-education program; details are available at


Q: Does each college have financial aid offices?

A: Yes, every college and university has a financial aid office or person(s) who handles student financial aid.


Q: What are Stafford loans?

A: Stafford Loans (now known as Federal Direct Loans) are federally-guaranteed student loans for eligible students to help cover the cost of higher education at a four-year college or university, community college, or trade, career, or technical school. For more information about Federal Direct Loans, visit


Q: What is the PLUS loan?

A: PLUS Loans are federal loans that parents of dependent undergraduate students and graduate or professional degree students can use to help pay education expenses. Students must complete the FAFSA, and the college/university financial aid office will provide instructions about their process for requesting a Direct PLUS Loan. For more information about PLUS Loans, visit


Q: Other than loans, how else can I get money for college?

A: Begin applying for financial aid at Completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) qualifies students and their families for federal grants and scholarships, and is required to determine eligibility for most state and institutional financial aid.  Always look for sources of aid that don’t have to be paid back before considering taking out a loan, and make use of federal loan programs before turning to private sources.

Grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and awards for special talents can all provide money for college that does not have to be repaid. You can find out more about eligibility for such grants


Q: How long does it take to pay back financial loans?

A: It depends on the terms of the loans when they were first taken (or distributed). Many federal loans have terms up to 10 or 15 years. If you took private loans directly from a bank or credit union, it will depend on their policies and what was in the original loan agreement.


Q: If I earn a bachelor’s degree and then an MBA, when do I start repaying student loans – when I finish the bachelor’s degree or after I get the MBA? 

A: You will not be asked to begin to repay your student loans until after you finish your education. Loans will not go into repayment as long as you head to graduate school within six months of completing your undergraduate degree.


Q: Can loans be paid off through monthly payments? 

A: Yes, loans are usually paid off in monthly installments.


Q: Can you change your major while receiving financial aid? Will financial aid cover only one major per semester?

A: Yes, you may change majors. You must, however, remain in good academic standing to keep your financial aid from year to year.


Q: What is the typical breakdown [percentage] of loans versus grants?

A: According to “Trends in Student Aid 2013,” 49% of all aid offered in 2012-13 was in the form of grants or scholarships. 43% of all aid offered in 2013-13 was in the form of a loan.


Q: I’m involved in sports. How can I get financial aid, and where?

A: Financial aid is not tied to sports. You simply apply for aid following the college’s instructions. It usually means filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


Q: I received a student Financial Resource Center letter. Could any college accept it if I apply?

A: Sounds like this letter may require colleges to participate in a program. Check with the colleges on your list.


Q: What financial aid is available for graduate students?

A: Yes, but it is limited to student loans and assistanships or fellowships.


Eligibility for Financial Aid

Q: Can I get an estimate of the EFC? As a middle class single parent, I fear that I make too much to qualify for aid but too little to afford paying for college out of pocket. Is there assistance for people like me?

A: Yes, students and families can get an EFC estimate using the FAFSA4caster found at Despite a family’s fear that they make too much, the FAFSA also determines eligibility for federal subsidized Direct Loans for students. With subsidized loans, the government pays the interest while the student is enrolled in college, and the interest rates and terms are often far better than private loan alternatives. Students can also keep searching for private scholarships using search engines such as


Q: How can I get a subsidized federal Stafford loan?

A: Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). That form is used to determine a family’s financial need.


Q: Do the SAT and ACT affect my ability to receive financial aid?

A: SAT and/or ACT scores will not affect a student’s need-based financial aid from the federal or state government, or from the college or university. Some institutions award extra awards such as merit-based scholarships for certain grades, exam scores, or other achievements.


Q: My family’s financial situation has changed due to a parent being laid off and unemployed for the last two years, 2012 and 2013. I’m currently a junior and will be applying next year.

A: When completing the FAFSA after January 1 of the high school senior year, the financial aid information will only be required for the previous calendar year. So, in this case, the student will be completing the FAFSA in January 2015, so will only need the 2014 financial information for the family.

If a student’s family situation changes after completing the FAFSA, financial aid offices have the ability to make adjustments to the financial aid package through professional judgment. If determined professional judgment is warranted, students must provide the documentation required by the financial aid office for any adjustments to be made.


Q: If my parents are divorced will that affect my financial aid?

A: If your parents are divorced or separated, answer the questions on the FAFSA about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months. If this parent is remarried as of today, answer the questions on the FAFSA about that parent and the person whom your parent married (your stepparent). If you lived with the parent who made less money, you may be eligible for more financial aid. If you lived with the parent who made more money, it could be less.

If you lived the same amount of time with each divorced parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent 12 months that you actually received support from a parent.

Some colleges require the CSS Financial Aid Profile, which asks for additional information, including the financial information of the non-custodial parent (the parent the student lives with less or not at all).


Q: I don’t qualify for HEOP or EOP, but my parents are going through hardship. What can I do or say to colleges in order for them to help me?

A: Usually we (as in financial aid officers) can see this when we look at the results of your FAFSA. If you feel the financial aid package isn’t reflecting this hardship then appeal by writing a letter and explaining the challenges you and your family are facing.


Q: What if my parents’ income is high but only my dad is working? Could I get financial aid?

A: Anyone can get financial aid by filing the FAFSA and anything else the college may require. Your family’s income will determine what we are able to offer you.


Q: What is the maximum income to be eligible for TAP/Pell Grant/HEOP? How are parents’ assets considered? Their property?

A: TAP is based on your family’s NYS net taxable income. To be eligible for TAP, the NYS net taxable income must be less than $80,000. HEOP eligibility is determined by the size of your household. Check out for the household table. Check out for the EOP household table and for more information about SEEK and College Discovery.


Q: If I have a savings account, does that mean that I am not eligible for financial aid?

A: It depends on the size of the student’s savings account. Your EFC will include 20% of the total of your savings account.


Q: My father works in New Jersey and pays taxes for New Jersey and New York. Does that give me access to financial aid in New Jersey, too?

A: You can get financial aid at most colleges in the U.S. Getting state aid will depend on your residency.


Q: Can a B or C student get a merit-based scholarship?

A: It is possible; all depends on each college’s scholarship opportunities.


Q: Are there any grants or scholarships for a first child about to attend college?

A: Most federal grant and scholarship programs, like Pell, and the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) are available to first generation students (first in their family to attend college) their freshman year. Check with the college or university the student will be attending to see if there are any scholarship or grant opportunities for first generation students.


Paying for College

Q: What does EFC (Expected Family Contribution) cover? How is the EFC calculated?

A: The expected family contribution is based on the economic information provided on a financial aid application, usually the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It represents the amount the family is expected to contribute toward all your college expenses. It is based on a family’s past (as seen in savings or investments), current and future economies. It is not a cash flow analysis but rather the amount that a family should be able to pull together by the time the student goes to college.


Q: How is my parents’ retirement pension and/or tax-deferred plan used in calculating the EFC?

A: These assets are not part of the calculation of the EFC as long as they are held in an IRS-approved retirement plan.


Q: Who is responsible for the EFC, the parent or child?

A: Federal student aid programs are based on the concept that it is the student and the student’s family’s responsibility to pay for a college education. Students and their parents/guardians must establish a plan for whose responsibility it will be, in whole or in part, to finance the college education.

The EFC is not the amount of money a family will have to pay for college, nor is it the amount of federal student aid a student will receive. It is a number used by colleges and universities to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Once a student’s total financial aid package at a college is set (all federal, state and institutional grants, scholarships and loans), that number is subtracted from the college’s Cost of Attendance (tuition, fees, room and board, books, etc.) and it will yield, if any, “unmet need.” This unmet need will have to be paid for out of savings, PLUS loan, home equity loan, or other means. The student will be responsible for any loans (Federal Direct Loans, Perkins Loans, etc.) included in the financial aid package he or she accepts from the college.

Unmet need is the difference, or gap, between a family’s financial need and the financial aid package awarded by the college/university. For instance, if a family has a financial need of $15,000, and the financial aid package awards the student a total of $12,000, the unmet need is $3,000. See page 4 of Affording College (2013 edition) for more information about the EFC.


Q: What are the factors that determine your EFC? Salary, savings, etc.?

A: The EFC is calculated according to a formula established by federal law. A family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) all could be considered in the formula. Also considered are the family size and the number of family members who will attend college or career school during the year.


Q: Can you explain “benefit from tax advantage?”

A: New York State offers college tuition tax credits and deductions. For more information, go to

New York’s 529 College Savings Program also offers tax deductions on contributions to this program; details about this program are available at

For federal taxes, students and their families are also eligible for an American Opportunity Tax Credit of $2,500 for college-related expenses if their annual income is below $90,000 (for a single parent) or $180,000 (for a couple), and may also be eligible for a student loan deduction and a tuition and fees deduction. More information can be found at


Q: Are students’ private savings assumed to have to go towards college? For example, $10,000 - $20,000 savings?

A: From the FAFSA, approximately 20 percent of certain assets owned by a student are considered in the EFC calculation.


Q: If your father was a veteran, are there any VA benefits that can help pay for college?

A: There are some federal and NYS veterans programs that are available to students if a parent was killed or permanently disabled during certain eligible combat campaigns. There are also some instances where a parent/guardian’s veteran education benefits may be transferred to their dependent children. To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at, or the NYS Division of Veterans’ Affairs at


Q: Can the Yellow Ribbon program be used in addition to Pell and TAP?

A: Students must make sure that the college or university they will be attending is a participating institution in the Yellow Ribbon Program (Post 9/11 GI Bill). When using other forms of funding with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is the last payer, meaning the VA will pay what is left after other grants and/or scholarships cover what the student is eligible for through those programs (Pell, TAP).


Q: Is it possible to pay off your tuition/fees by doing work on campus?

A: It is possible but might not be a good idea. You should consider working between 8-10 hours at first. You’ll need to get acclimated to your academic schedule and responsibilities before taking on more hours.


Q: What is the amount of debt students leave with when they’re done with college?

A: This is going to depend on the cost of the college that the student attends, the financial need of the student/family, and the eligibility or availability of other types of aid (grants and scholarships).


FAFSA and Applying for Financial Aid

Q: Can juniors do FAFSA?

A: No. The FAFSA cannot be completed until after January 1 of a student’s senior year in high school. Every college has a Net Price Calculator on their website. It’ll calculate an estimated EFC and might show you what your financial aid award letter might look like.


Q: When is the FAFSA due?

A: For the 2013–14 academic year, you can apply between January 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. Since many colleges and universities use the FAFSA analysis to determine students’ eligibility for scholarships from the college (a limited pool of dollars), students should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1. See below for more information about FAFSA completion.


Q: Is there any way to begin the FAFSA before January 1?

A: I don’t recommend filling out any FAFSA but the one that will be used by your colleges – the one you complete as soon as possible after January 1. I do strongly suggest that you use the Net Price Calculator found on every college website. This is a reasonable guide to what will eventually happen when you fill out the FAFSA for real.


Q: Do you always have to put your parents’ income on the FAFSA application?

A: A student’s dependency status determines whose information you must report on the FAFSA. Most high school students completing the FAFSA are dependent students, in which case family circumstances will also dictate whose information is included (in the case of divorced parents/guardians). Visit to determine your dependency status.


Q: If a parent makes more income than lower income families, can they apply for FAFSA?

A: Every student is eligibile to complete the FAFSA. The results using the information collected from the FAFSA, called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), determine what financial aid programs a student is eligible for. There are no income cut-offs to complete the FAFSA form.


Q: What types of information does the FAFSA form need me to provide?

A: The FAFSA asks for information about you (your name, date of birth, address, etc.) and about your financial situation. Depending on your circumstances (for instance, when you filed taxes or what tax form you used), you might need the following information or documents as you fill out the FAFSA:

  • Your Social Security number (it’s important that you enter it correctly on the FAFSA!)
  • Your parents’ Social Security numbers if you are a dependent student
  • Your driver’s license number if you have one
  • Your Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information, for you (and your spouse, if you are married), and for your parents if you are a dependent student:
    • IRS 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ
    • Foreign tax return, or
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federal States of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans non-education benefits, for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate but not including the home in which you live; and business and farm assets for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student.

Keep these records! You may need to refer to them again. Do not send them to the Department of Education or the college(s) you have applied to!


Q: When are the results for the FAFSA returned?

A: The results of the FAFSA are returned to you in a form called the Student Aid Report (SAR). The turnaround time for the Department of Education to generate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and financial aid eligibility reported on the SAR will depend on how the FAFSA was submitted (online or the paper form), if the online FAFSA form was submitted using the PIN as a signature or a paper signature page, or if a valid email address was provided on either the online or paper FAFSA. To view the SAR timetable based on these variables, visit


Q: The FAFSA should be filled out January 1, but most companies don’t release W-2s until the end of January. How would that affect my chances of getting financial aid?

A: Families may use their last pay stub from the previous year to estimate earnings and other information asked for on the FAFSA (e.g., to complete the FAFSA in January 2013, use the last pay stub from December 2012). You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) either by email or mail (if you provided a valid email address it will be emailed, otherwise a paper form will be mailed to you) shortly after submitting your completed FAFSA. You can make corrections and update any information on this form and resubmit later in the process. You will then receive an updated SAR.


Q: If I attend a college in another state, should I fill out the FAFSA?

A: Yes. The FAFSA is a federal form and is used nationwide.


Q: Since the FAFSA is so important whose income is included on the form? (My parents are divorced.)

A: If your parents are divorced or separated, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months. If this parent is remarried as of today, answer the questions on the FAFSA about that parent and the person whom your parent married (your stepparent).

If you lived the same amount of time with each divorced parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent 12 months that you actually received support from a parent.

The following people are not your parents unless they have adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, and uncles or aunts.


Q: When is the time to apply for scholarships that the college provides?

A: Colleges and universities usually offer two types of scholarships or grants – need-based and merit based. Eligibility for need-based scholarships depends on a student’s financial need, which is determined using the information from the FAFSA (so you apply beginning January 1 of the student’s senior year in high school). Merit awards are not based on financial need, but rather recognize a student’s special talent, athletic or academic ability. Colleges and universities use the information from the admission application, interview or portfolio or performance audition to award these scholarships.


Q: Can you apply for more than one scholarship or grant? Do those affect the financial aid you can get?

A: Yes, you can certainly apply for and receive more than one scholarship or grant.

If the college has awarded a student financial aid and these extra scholarship awards come in and put them over the college’s cost of attendance, financial aid officers are required to do some adjustments because no student can receive more money than the cost of attendance. To protect the scholarships and grants a student may have already been awarded, financial aid officers will usually look to reduce the amounts of any loans that a student may have borrowed (Federal Direct Loans or Perkins Loans).


Q: What’s the earliest I can apply for a scholarship?

A: This depends on where and what types of scholarships you are applying for. Federal, State, and many institution-funded grants and scholarships are awarded depending on a student’s financial need, which is determined using the information from the FAFSA (so you apply beginning January 1 of the student’s senior year in high school).

There are thousands of privately-funded scholarships available nationwide, each with its own application timeframe. Some scholarship applications may be due in the fall as students complete college admission applications. Use free websites such as or Do not pay for scholarship searches! There are many scams!


Q: Should I apply under the Common Application, or directly to the college to have a better chance?

A: You have to first determine if the colleges you are applying to participate in the Common Application as not every college/university uses that application. Visit to see the list of participating institutions. Colleges using the Common App sometimes have a Supplement, questions unique for their institution, in addition to the general Common App form that must be submitted as well.

Colleges and universities that sign on to use the Common Application commit to a non-discriminatory policy regarding how they view the Common Application versus their own application, so there is no “better chance” by applying via the Common Application versus the institution’s own application. There are many institutions that use only the Common Application and Supplement.


Q: Does the FAFSA apply to colleges in other countries, such as Oxford or McGill?

A: Unless the foreign college has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education, it is unlikely they accept the FAFSA. Check with each to find out how to apply for their financial aid programs.


Q: What are the different types of loans offered by the FAFSA? And what are the differences between them? (Perkins? PLUS?)

A: There are four types of loans offered by the Department of Education. The Perkins Loan is a campus-based award meaning each campus decides who gets it. That decision is based on how much Perkins has been previously repaid to the school. The Direct Loan comes in two ways. Your Direct Loan is either subsidized (interest is paid by the government while you are in school) or unsubsidized (interest is paid by you). There are annual limits on the Perkins and Direct Loan programs. The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) is available to credit worthy parents of undergraduate students. A parent may borrow up to the cost of the college minus any financial aid offered.


Q: What if my income situation changes after my FAFSA is submitted? Example: Loss or gain of employment.

A: You should always let your financial aid officers know about any changes to your family’s circumstances as soon as it happens. In some cases, we are able to redo your financial aid so it is reflective of the change.


Q: Does FAFSA cover medical or dental school?

A: Graduate and professionals schools (medical and dental) use the FAFSA, too.


Q: Does the FAFSA help students who receive government aid such as welfare, SSI, and Medicaid?

A: FAFSA is an application that helps financial aid officers assist students. Yes, we serve and award students on welfare, SSI and Medicaid.


Q: What is the relationship and difference between the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) and the FAFSA?

A: The FAFSA is an application for federal, state and sometimes, institutional financial aid. SEOG is one of many financial aid programs managed by the college financial aid officers using the results of the FAFSA.


Scholarships and Grants

Q: How do you know if online scholarships are safe?

A: You don’t always know but common sense can help you here. Start your search on a website you already trust. That way you minimize your exposure to scam and fraud.


Q: Are there special scholarships for Latinos and where can I search for them?

A: Yes. Do a search online at a website you trust. For example, check out the Hispanic College Fund, Inc. at


Q: Could I apply for a scholarship when I haven’t applied to any college?

A: You’ll need to do both. You can look for scholarships before applying to any college but you’ll need to be admitted to one before that scholarship will be released.


Q: What are some types of scholarships?

A: There are as many types of scholarships out there as there are the donors who create them.


Q: Are there any grants or scholarships for students with an IEP (Individualized Education Program)?

A: Yes, but they are limited. Start your search for them as soon as possible.


Q: How do you get a scholarship from colleges outside New York State?

A: The same way you get them in NYS. You must follow the financial aid application requirements of the out-of-state colleges.


Q: Do scholarships such as ones for the left-handed really exist?

A: Yes


Q: What scholarships are given to a “B” student, GPA 83-85, that are not based on merit? Are talent, volunteer work, or job experience considered?

A: It depends on the donor’s wishes but yes, there are opportunities for scholarships that are not based on merit alone.


Q: What is the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG)?

A: SEOG is a campus-based, federal grant program. SEOG is meant to supplement Pell Grant students’ financial aid packages. Each campus is given a limited amount of SEOG each year. It is up to them to determine which Pell Grant recipients receive it.


Q: How do you apply for a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)? How much money is in this grant?

A: File a FAFSA. If you are eligible to receive a Pell Grant then you will also be considered for SEOG.


Q: Are there any organizations that give scholarships for specific jobs/colleges?

A: There are a number of organizations that support college students with scholarships or internships. Start looking by identifying your area of study then tapping into related organizations.


Q: I’ve heard of FAFSA but what is TAP?

A: TAP is the Tuition Assistance Program, a grant program offered to New York State resident students attending a college or university in New York State. This grant is administered by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (NYSHESC). To apply for a TAP Grant, students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and complete the TAP application from the FAFSA submission page. For more information about TAP, visit


Q: Do scholarships have an expiration date? Do they last all four years? Do I need to get good grades to keep my scholarship?

A: Some scholarships may only be for a year; others may be available for all years of undergraduate study. However, every scholarship and grant is likely to have specific directives students must follow in order to keep the scholarship from one year to the next. Students need to review the criteria for maintaining grants and scholarships, such as a requirement to maintain a certain GPA.


Q: Do scholarships need to be renewed every year?

A: In almost all cases, yes. After a student’s freshman year in college, a Renewal FAFSA will have to be completed to collect updated financial and other information about the family’s situation. This will renew eligibility for federal student aid programs for the next academic year. To maintain federal aid eligibility, students must also have demonstrated successful completion of courses toward their degree program, called Satisfactory Academic Progress.

New York State resident students attending a college or university in New York State who receive a Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grant must meet academic standards to continue eligibility for TAP and also complete a Renewal FAFSA.

Scholarships directly from the college, from a private foundation or other organization may also stipulate certain GPA or other requirements in order to keep that scholarship for the next year. Be sure you know what is expected and when to reapply.


Q: Are the grants and Pell available for all four years of tuition?

A: Many are available for all four years of college, as long as a student maintains their eligibility for the particular grant program (any GPA requirements, progress toward the degree, income eligibility, etc.). The amount of Federal Pell Grant funds a student receives over their undergraduate college career is limited by a new federal law that limits Pell to the equivalent of six years (or 12 semesters). For NYS TAP, undergraduate students can receive payments for a total of four academic years (eight semesters).


Q: Please describe what a need-based grant is and how it is different from merit grants (please give an example).

A: Need-based grants and scholarships are awarded to a student based on the student and family’s financial need, as determined using the information provided on the FAFSA. Examples of need-based grants/scholarships are the federal Pell Grant and, for New York State resident students attending a college in New York State, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

Merit awards are not based on financial need, but rather recognize a student’s special talent, athletic or academic ability. Colleges and universities use the information from the admission application, interview or portfolio or performance audition to award these scholarships. Examples include scholarships for enrolling students with a particular SAT score, a scholarship for a particular academic major, or athletic scholarships.


Q: What scholarships are available for Latino and/or Hispanic students?

A: All students, not only Latino students, should find out about federal grants for which they may be eligible. Grants, like scholarships, are money that does not have to be repaid. Among the federal grants available are Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants  (for students with exceptional financial need). Students and families can learn more and search for scholarships at the Federal Student Aid website     

Students in New York State can learn about scholarships for state residents at the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) website at:

A good place to start searching for scholarships offered to Latino/Hispanic students is at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund site


Opportunity Programs

Q: What is an Opportunity Program and how do I sign up?

A: The Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) is a comprehensive program at many private colleges and universities for academically and economically disadvantaged NYS students. It provides financial aid to cover the full cost of college, academic tutoring, educational counseling and other support services.

Students do not “sign up” for an HEOP program. Each college with an HEOP program has a competitive application process in which students must meet academic parameters (unique to each college) and very specific financial criteria (used by all programs). Students should ask the colleges that they are interested in whether they have a program. A little more than half of the private colleges in New York have HEOP. If the college has HEOP, make sure the college knows you are interested in being part of the program. Some colleges have a supplemental HEOP application form and some do not, so be sure to ask that question. Once the college knows a student meets the financial and academic eligibility, they can consider a student for the program.


Q: Do colleges have a separate application (from FAFSA) for EOP or HEOP?

A: Yes. The HEOP, EOP, and SEEK programs encompass more than financial aid. They are also an admission and student service program. More information is needed.


Q: What is the difference between HEOP, EOP, SEEK, and College Discovery?

A: HEOP is only at the private institutions in New York. EOP is at SUNY, and SEEK and College Discovery are at CUNY.


Q: Are there a limited number of spots for these programs at each school? Is it difficult to be accepted into an EOP or HEOP program?

A: Yes, there are limited spaces in each college or university HEOP program, which makes admission to the program competitive. The stringent family income criteria, set by New York State and is the same for all HEOP programs, does provide a layer of complexity as some students, although academically eligible, may fall just outside of these financial parameters, making them HEOP-ineligible. There are some colleges that offer HEOP-like programs that do not have to adhere to the NYS income criteria - contact a college’s admissions office to inquire about similar programs.


Q: What type of GPA or SAT score is generally required to be accepted into HEOP/EOP programs?

A: The academic criteria are different at every college. Students must be inadmissible by the college’s regular admissions criteria; as those criteria vary by school, so do the HEOP admission criteria.


Q: My family’s financial situation has changed due to a parent being laid off and unemployed for the last two years, 2012 and 2013. Will I be eligible for HEOP and EOP programs? I’m currently a junior and will be applying next year.

A: It will depend on the total income for the family and the size of the household. To find the income chart and other information about HEOP, visit:

Beyond the financial criteria, the student will have to meet the HEOP admission criteria as well.


Q: How can I apply for HEOP?

A: Check with each college you are interested in to see if they have a HEOP program. Then inquire as to how to apply to it.


Q: Is it possible to get into the SEEK program even if someone in your family makes $50,000 a year but you have six family members?

A: The income ceiling for a family of six is $59,145.


Transfer/Adult Students

Q: What happens to my financial aid if I transfer from a community college to a four-year college?

A: A student who transfers between institutions is still eligible for their federal and state financial aid. Many colleges also offer scholarships for transfer students that may be based on the GPA from the previous institution attended or program of study they are transferring into. Students should contact the admissions office to make sure that the credits earned at previous colleges can be transferred.


Q: What financial aid is available for older students going back to college?

A: There is no age limitation on financial aid. Make sure your college knows you need financial aid when applying to as a returning adult transfer student.


Q: Are there options for graduate of a foreign university?

A: Students who attended a foreign university and are seeking transfer into a college or university in the United States, will most likely be required to have the transcripts certified through an approved agency. The most common approved agency is World Education System (WES). Students will also need to obtain the F-1 Student Visa and Immigration Status or the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa and Immigration status in order to study or conduct research in the U.S.

International students may receive scholarships directly from the college they will be attending in the U.S., but will not be eligible for any federal or state financial assistance.

After any scholarships or grants that are awarded by the college/university, the remaining balance is the responsibility of the student.  The student must show that the correct funds are available to pay for the remainder of the balance due. It is very important to work with the individual contact person at the U.S. college/university to determine what documents are required.


Undocumented/Immigrant Students

Q: Is there any financial aid for undocumented students?

A: Yes, but it’s very important that students do their research about what colleges expect, especially when it comes to financial aid. Students may want to let the admissions and/or financial aid people know that they are undocumented so that the college/university handles their information correctly. Undocumented students are eligible for institutional aid – college/university-funded scholarships and grants if a student qualifies for them. Undocumented students are not eligible for federal or state aid.

Q: Are undocumented students eligible for HEOP?

A: Unfortunately, they are not. Eligibility requirements for HEOP state that the student must be eligible for federal financial aid.


Q: How many colleges accept students who are not U.S. citizens?

A: Many colleges accept international students. Check websites.


Q: What college and scholarship opportunities are there for undocumented students?

A: It is important that the college understands that you are undocumented. The financial aid office will likely ask you to apply as an international student without a visa status.


Q: How does citizenship/immigration status affect financial aid opportunities and college admission?

A: If you are a U.S. citizen, national, or eligible non-citizen (green card), you are eligible for federal assistance. If none of these statuses apply to you then you are only eligible to receive the college’s own resources.


Q: If my parent is an immigrant, do I still qualify for student aid? How does it affect my FAFSA?

A: If you are a U.S. citizen and your parent is not, you are considered eligible for federal, state and institutional resources.