Do I qualify for federal student aid?

The following are general eligibility requirements to be eligible for financial aid:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen;
  • Be admitted to a degree or eligible certificate program;
  • Enroll for at least six credit hours each semester (Some students may be eligible for Federal Pell Grants while enrolled for less than six credits);
  • Show financial need (for most programs);
  • Make satisfactory academic progress;
  • Be registered with Selective Service, if required; and,
  • Not be in default on payment of a student loan or owe a refund on a federal grant

If I meet the basic eligibility criteria for federal student aid, who decides how much money I’ll get?

Your eligibility depends on you Expected Family Contribution, your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance a the school you will be attending. The financial aid office at your college or career school will determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.

  • The financial aid staff starts by deciding upon your cost of attendance (COA) at that school.
  • They then consider your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
  • They then subtract your EFC from your COA to determine the amount of your financial need and therefore how much need-based aid you can get.
  • To determine how much non-need-based aid you can get, the school takes your cost of attendance and subtracts any financial aid you’ve already been awarded.

What does cost of attendance (COA) mean?

Your COA is the amount it will cost you to go to school. Most two-year and four-year colleges will calculate your COA to show your total cost for the school year (for instance, for the fall semester plus the spring semester). Schools with programs that last a different period of time (for instance, an 18-month certificate program) might give you a COA that covers a time period other than a year.

If you’re attending at least half-time. your COA is the estimate of:

  • tuition and fees;
  • the cost of room and board (or living expenses for students who do not contract with the school for room and board;
  • the cost of books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and miscellaneous expenses (including a reasonable amount for the documented cost of a personal computer);
  • an allowance for child care or other dependent care;
  • costs related to a disability; and/or
  • reasonable costs for eligible study-abroad programs.

What’s the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

Your EFC is an index number that college financial aid staff use to determine how much financial aid you would receive if you were to attend their school. The information you report on your FAFSA is used to calculate your EFC.

The EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law. Your 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 your family size and the number of family member who will attend college or career school during the year. The EFC Formula (External Site) guide shows exactly how an EFC is calculate.

What is need-based aid and how does my school figure out how much I’ll get?

Your college or career school first determines whether you have financial need by using this simple formula:

Calculating Your Financial Need:
Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need

Need-based aid is financial aid that you can receive if you have financial need and meet other eligible criteria. You can’t receive more need-based aid than the amount of you financial need. For instance, if your COA is $6,000 and your EFC is 2000, your financial need is $4,000; so you aren’t eligible for more than $4,000 in need-based aid.

The following are the need-based federal student aid programs:

What is non-need-based aid and how does my school figure out how much I’ll get?

Your school determines how much non-need based aid you can get by using this formula:

Calculating your non-need-based aid:
Coast of Attendance (COA) – Financial Aid Awarded so far* = Eligibility for non-need-based aid

*includes aid from all sources, such as the school, private scholarship providers, etc. Non-need based aid is financial aid that is not based on your EFC. What matters is your COA and how much other assistance you’ve been awarded so far. For instance, if your COA is $6,000 and  you’ve been awarded a total of $4,000 in need-based aid and private scholarships, you can get up to $2,000 in non-need-based aid.

The following are non-need-based federal student aid programs