Financial Aid FAQs

When do I start the financial aid process?
While it’s a good idea for families to start having conversations about financial expectations before seriously considering colleges, the process for apply for financial aid begins in the fall of senior year. In previous years the FAFSA wasn’t available until January 1st, however, now students can fill it out starting on October 1st. The CSS Profile is also available beginning October 1st.

What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the application in which students can access federal and state funding for post-secondary education. If a form that looks like FAFSA is asking you to pay to submit a form for federal aid, that is NOT the FAFSA which is free. Students have to re-apply with the FAFSA for financial aid every year while pursuing post-secondary education. The official website is:

What is the CSS Profile?
The CSS Profile is a financial aid form administered by The College Board that is required by about 400 institutions around the country. The CSS Profile awards non-federal aid and costs $25 for the initial application and $16 for each additional application. If a student qualifies for an SAT fee waiver, the CSS Profile can be submitted for free. The CSS Profile tends to be longer and asks more detailed questions regarding the parents’ assets (income, accounts, second/additional homes, businesses, etc).

What does FAFSA mean by prior-prior year?
Previously students used to use their parents’ tax returns from the previous year to fill out the FAFSA (eg. 2015-2016 school year 2014 tax returns were used). Now the FAFSA wants tax/income information from the “prior-prior” year (eg. 2018-2019 school year uses 2016 tax returns). This is meant to make it easier for students and parents so that they do not have to wait until taxes are filed to complete the FAFSA. If your income has changed significantly since the prior-prior year, fill out the FAFSA with the requested information and contact institutions directly with updated information.

What does “EFC” on the FAFSA stand for?
“EFC” stands for “Expected Family Contribution.” This is the amount that a students’ family is expected to be able to contribute to college expenses. This amount is NOT what the student will be required to pay at their chosen institution which can be more or less than the EFC. A student’s financial need is calculated as cost of attendance minus EFC= financial need.

Will my EFC change if my family is paying for more than one child in our family?
Yes, a family EFC is divided by the number of children within a family attending college so your EFC can change over time.

I was born in the United States, but my parent(s) is/are undocumented. Can I still apply for financial aid using the FAFSA?
Yes. A student who is a US citizen or permanent resident (green card holders) are eligible to apply for federal aid with the FAFSA. The parents’ immigration status is not considered for a student’s financial aid but their income is required. Non-citizen or DACA students do not qualify for federal financial aid but may be able to receive state and/or institutional aid.

If my parents are divorced or legally separated, which parent should provide the information required to apply for financial aid?
The parent that has primary custody of the child should fill out the FAFSA. If custody is 50/50 the parent that provides the most financial support should complete the form. This does not need to be the parent that claims the child on their tax return. Biological and adopted parents are required to provide their financial information.

Does my child need to include stepparent income on the FAFSA?
If one or both of your parents are married/remarried to another person, the stepparent’s income should be included on the FAFSA if the mother/father and stepparent have primary custody. If your parent is not married to their partner, their financial information does not need to be included on the FAFSA. 

I’m a student and I live with my grandparent(s), an older sibling, or my aunt/uncle. Who should fill out my FAFSA?
Only your biological and/or adoptive parents should be on your FAFSA. If a non-parent family member legally adopts you, only then is their financial information required.

My parents own an apartment/house and make a decent salary. Will I qualify for financial aid?
You might still qualify for some financial aid. You are not required to declare the value of your primary residence on the FAFSA if your parents own it. However, the value of additional property owned must be reported on the FAFSA.

Why should I complete the FAFSA when I know I won’t qualify for aid?
Even if you have a high income, some colleges/universities will require the FAFSA in order to receive merit-based scholarships. Unfortunately this information is not very easy to find and institutional policies on this can vary.

What’s the difference between need-based aid and merit-based aid?
Need-based aid is financial assistance provided due to a family’s income/ability to pay for post-secondary education. Federal aid is based on need. A student’s grades, test scores, activities, etc., are not considered when determining this amount. Merit-based aid is given regardless of whether a student has financial need or not so a student whose parents can pay full cost of attendance can qualify for merit-based aid.

What is “Work-Study” and how can my child receive it?
The Federal Work-Study Program is available to full-time and part-time students. It allows students to earn money with an on-campus or sometimes off-campus part-time job to pay for college expenses. Work-Study is awarded as a part of financial aid packages. In order to be considered for the Federal Work-Study Program students must select “yes” to the question on the FAFSA that asks whether the student wants to participate in the program. Receiving Work-Study doesn’t guarantee that a student has a job and job/pay will vary at each institution. Usually colleges have a website that lists available Work-Study positions. It’s recommended that students search for a Work-Study position at the beginning of the school year.

The FAFSA asks for student income information. Does this need to be filled out?
Yes. If a student earns income, they should report it on the FAFSA whether or not they file a tax return and it should be reported for the year that financial information is being requested. If the student has only earned a few thousand dollars, it should not have a significant impact on the EFC. In a situation where the student has not worked before, they can simply enter “0” when amounts are asked.

What happens after I complete a FAFSA?
You will receive a Student AId Report (SAR) a few weeks after submission which lists your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)  for college. 

And under EFC. Your EFC will be sent to college and they will use this number to determine your financial aid package which you should receive with your college acceptance letter. 

How do students apply for the TAP Grant?
The TAP Grant application is in the FAFSA. The TAP Grant application is generated when a student identifies as a New York State resident and includes at least one New York State college/university for their FAFSA to be sent. More detailed information about TAP can be found here:

How does the Excelsior Scholarship work?
The Excelsior Scholarship is available to students who are New York State residents and attend a public college or university (CUNY or SUNY). For the 2018-2019 school year the family income limit is $110,000 per year and for 2019-2020 and beyond it will be $125,000 per year. The purpose of the Excelsior scholarship is to cover tuition/fees not already covered by the TAP grant or other financial aid. Keep in mind that the Excelsior scholarship does not cover room and board expenses. Student must be enrolled for at least 12 credits per term and complete 30 credits per year including summer and winter terms (the Excelsior Scholarship does not cover classes taken outside of the regular fall and spring semesters). Excelsior Scholarship recipients must complete their degree in four years (or five for 5-year degree programs). After graduation from college, those who received the Excelsior Scholarship must stay and work in New York State and work for as many years as they received the scholarship (typically four years). If a recipient leaves the state to work, the Excelsior Scholarship funds received will become a student loan that must be paid back. For more information or to apply see the NYS Higher Education Services Corporation website:

What is the main difference between a subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loan?
A Stafford Loan is a federal student loan that can be used to cover expenses for an undergraduate or technical school program. With a subsidized Stafford Loan, the government covers any interest on the loan while the borrower is still in school. An unsubsidized Stafford Loan starts accruing interest once the loan has been taken out. If the borrower does not pay for the interest while in school then the accumulated amount will be added to the principal amount of the loan.

What is a Parent Plus Loan and is it something my family should get?
A Parent Plus Loan is a federal loan that parents can take out for their dependent children pursuing undergraduate education. There is usually a fixed interest rate and an origination fee. Only biological parents, adoptive parents, or stepparents married to a biological or adoptive parent are eligible to take out a Parent Plus Loan. Grandparents or other relatives (unless they have legally adopted the student) are not eligible. Credit history and debt-to-income ratios are used to determine whether the parent borrower will receive the loan. While the Parent Plus Loan is a lower cost loan than private bank loans, borrowing all four years can accumulate to a substantial amount of money especially when paying for a private college/university. Long term costs should always be considered when taking on Parent Plus Loans.

What’s the difference between a dependent and an independent student?
A dependent student can be thought of as a “traditional” college student: unmarried, under age 24, and reliant on their parents for the majority of their financial support. Dependent students must provide their parents’ financial information on their FAFSA regardless of whether the parent claims the student on taxes, the student live with their parents, or even has regular contact with their parents. An independent student is 24 years old or older, a graduate student (even if under 24), is married, is a veteran, has children who receive most of their financial support from the student, or has been in foster care. Independent students do not have to provide parental information on the FAFSA.

What does “gapping” mean?
“Gapping” refers to unmet financial need. Most colleges do not have policies that require them to meet 100% of need as determined by the FAFSA EFC. For example:

Jane’s EFC: $10,000

Cost of College X after all financial aid including student loans: $15,000

Jane’s “gap” or unmet financial need: $15,000

Financial aid rewards should be reviewed carefully as some colleges/universities will add a $5,000 Parent Plus Loan to Jane’s financial aid package and determine the additional of the loan as meeting full need.

I heard that some colleges/universities “front load” financial aid, what does this mean?
Some institutions will award students a larger financial aid package for their freshman year to get them “in the door” and once sophomore or later years come, packages can be somewhat or substantially less. Sometimes this can happen when a student does not maintain a certain GPA in order to continue receiving a particular scholarship. Other times a loss of aid can be due to a lack of institutional funding or simply a way of enrolling more students. It is important to ask schools directly about the rules/stipulations on scholarships and other awards.

What’s a “net price calculator” and how is it used?
A net price calculator is a tool that allows families to calculate the cost of a student to attend that particular institution. It takes the total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room, board, and other expenses) minus any financial aid that is being offered. It should be noted that net price calculator may only be accurate for calculating first-year costs. Some colleges will add merit scholarships that the student may qualify for based on grades and/or test scores into the net price calculator. The net price calculator is only an estimate of what a student will pay at a college/university and shouldn’t be taken as the final amount. All colleges and universities are required to have a net price calculator on the financial aid page of their web site.

What is a good place to look for scholarships?
There are many websites that list scholarships such as Fastweb, Zinch, Cappex, College Board’s scholarship search, etc. Clinton students can go into Naviance Student in the scholarships library and look at a variety of scholarships including local scholarships that they may be eligible for.

What are opportunity programs?
Residents of New York State are eligible to apply for academic opportunity programs if they are both financially and academically disadvantaged. These programs have a different set of admissions criteria and provide both financial and academic support for matriculating students. For more information on opportunity programs, see links below:
SEEK/College Discovery at CUNY Colleges

EOP at SUNY Colleges and Universities

HEOP at participating private colleges and universities in New York State.

For additional Financial Aid Resources, go to College Resources.