Financial Aid


Paying for college these days is a daunting undertaking. What's more, applying for need-based financial aid may be the most harrowing and onerous aspect of the entire college process for most families.

As no two financial situations are ever the same and there are so many variables to consider, it becomes next to impossible for anyone (save financial-aid professionals) to be of much specific help to students and their families.

What we can do is to provide the necessary general information so that students and their families can make sense of the process and to move forward with the aid application process. The following list of the terms and phrases, those that are often thrown about in conversations regarding financial aid, should be of some help in gaining a better understanding of the process. 


Holdings in the form of cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, trusts, business equipment and business inventory. All are considered in the formulation of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

CSS Profile

A financial aid form used by more than 300 colleges and universities in order to supplement information received on the FAFSA. Along with a registration fee, there is an additional fee to send a CSS Profile report to each college that requires it. Low-income families who qualify for SAT/ACT fee waivers can qualify for a waiver of the registration fee and two reports.

Custodial Parent

The parent with whom a student lives the most over the course of the previous 12 months. It is a term used in cases where parents are divorced or separated.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The amount a family is expected to pay for college as indicated by calculations made upon completion and submission of the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Form provided by the government and used by nearly every college. This is the form you need to fill out in order to be considered for federal aid such as the Pell Grant, Perkins and Stafford Loans.

Federal Aid

Funds in the form of loans and grants provided by the U.S. government. These include the Pell Grant, Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan and PLUS Loans. (Check for more detailed information on federal aid).

Financial Need

The difference between a family's ability to pay and the total cost of attending an institution.


Financial aid policy in which demonstrated need is not met fully by the institution.


Financial aid awards that do not have to be repaid.

Institutional Aid

Funds in the form of grants and loans provided by the college itself.

Merit-Based Aid

Financial aid awarded in conjunction with a student's academic ability or, in some cases, special talents (athletics, arts, leadership). The family's financial need is not considered when it comes to awarding merit-based aid. Think of merit-based aid as a "scholarship."

Need-Aware Admission

The policy of admitting students based on their ability to pay the cost of attendance.

Need-Based Aid

Financial aid awarded solely on the basis of a family's ability to pay.

Need-Blind Admission

The policy of accepting students without regard for their ability to pay the cost of attendance.

Pell Grant

Federal grant program that helps families who show a very low estimated family contribution (EFC). The maximum grant for 2016-2017 is $5,815, depending on the EFC calculations and the cost of attendance at the college.

Perkins Loan

Funded by the federal government, this loan has among the lowest interest rates of all the loan programs (5 percent), with the debt incurred by the student. Repayment of this loan is deferred until nine months after a student graduates or leaves the college. Maximum loan amount is $5,500 for an undergraduate degree.

Plus Loans

Federally sponsored loan administered by private lending institutions. PLUS loans are taken out by parents at a relatively low interest rate. Loan amounts cannot exceed the balance of the total cost of the attendance minus financial aid.

Preferential Packaging

A financial aid package that is enhanced in order to entice a student to attend that institution. Preferential packaging may increase grants over loans, or provide more aid than a student's demonstrated need.

Stafford (Subsidized) Loan

A Subsidized Stafford Loan is federally guaranteed and is based on financial need. Interest on this loan does not accrue while the student is in school (enrolled at least half time). The federal government subsidizes (pays) the interest on the loan while a student is enrolled.

Stafford (Unsubsidized) Loan

An Unsubsidized Stafford Loan is federally guaranteed and is not based on financial need. Interest will accrue from the time the loan is taken out, but a student does not need to make interest or the principal payments until six months after graduation (or until six months after a student drops below half-time status). There are maximum amounts a student can receive per school year. 

Student Aid Report (SAR)

The Student Aid Report, which includes the EFC, is returned to you after completion and submission of the FAFSA.

Total Cost

All expenses involved in attending an institution of higher learning, including tuition, room and board, fees, books, travel, and any miscellaneous expenses. 

Work Study

Federal program in which students are assured jobs in college in order to supplement their financial aid. Hours vary by institution, but cannot exceed 20 hours per week.