Counselors - Need some answers to financial aid questions?

The following are some of the most commonly asked questions asked about financial aid and the answers to those questions.

Please use them for your own reference, and feel free to make copies and hand them out to students. If you have additional questions of a general nature concerning financial aid, contact any financial aid office or the Arkansas Association of Financial Aid Administrators Financial Aid Awareness Committee as listed below. If they don’t have the answer, they will get it for you. For questions about state programs, contact the Arkansas Department of Higher Education at 800-54-STUDY or 501-371-2050. For questions about scholarships from individual institutions, contact the financial aid office at that school.

Please note, that if the question concerns an individual student and a situation particular to that student, you will need to contact the financial aid office at the school the student plans to attend. This is because certain decisions concerning an individual student and that student’s particular situation fall under a category called professional judgment and must be dealt with by the financial aid director at the school the student will attend.

Financial Aid Awareness Committee Contact:
April Herring
PCCUA DeWitt Campus
(870) 946-3506 ext. 1607
aherring@pccua.edu

How do I apply for Federal Aid?

The first step to apply for financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While the paper application may be submitted, the recommended method is the on-line application: FAFSA on the WEB (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov). Most people prefer to complete the FAFSA online at FAFSA.ed.gov. The online FAFSA is easier to complete, more accurate, and faster to process. The online FAFSA has built-in edit checks that catch and correct many common errors. Plus, you don’t have to mail the form or wait for the U.S. Department of Education to receive and process the form.Completing the FAFSA on line reduces the processing time from 4-6 weeks for the paper application to approximately one week. The student and one parent (for dependent students) must each create a Federal Student Aid ID and password, which will serve as their signatures for the on line application. FSA ID’s can be created by going to the FSA ID site https://fsaid.ed.gov or through a link on the FAFSA on the WEB site above. In order to fill out the FAFSA, you will need information from the parent’s and student’s Federal Tax Returns and all untaxed income information. The student should include the school codes of all the institutions where he or she wishes the FAFSA information to be sent. (This will automatically occur if applying on line.) If using the paper application, the completed FAFSA is mailed directly to the federal processor using the envelope included with the application. The federal processor enters the FAFSA information into its computer, performs the calculations, and sends the resulting Student Aid Report (SAR) to the student.

 

When can I fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?

The FAFSA can be completed beginning October 1 of each year.  The FAFSA should be completed and entered into the federal system as soon as possible as some campus based aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis. Also, some students are chosen by the Federal Processor for a process called verification. In this process, the information from the application will be compared with signed copies of the tax forms, W-2s and other financial documents as required by the school. Some schools require 100% verification of all students who apply for financial aid. This process must be completed and any corrections made before financial aid can be awarded. Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool when completing the FAFSA is the best way to transfer tax return reported data. The FAFSA will determine if this option is available to you.

Do I have to apply for financial aid every year?

Yes, you must apply for federal financial aid every year. Because federal aid is based on financial need, and your family’s financial situation could change from year to year, your financial aid cannot be renewed automatically. (Note that some state and institutional grants and scholarships are automatically renewed provided you meet the criteria for renewal, which usually means earning at least a specified grade point average and completing at least a specified number of credit/clock hours.) On the positive side, you may then qualify for more aid, or if you were ineligible in a previous year, you may have become eligible. You may complete a renewal application on line at the same FAFSA address as the original FAFSA: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. The renewal application will have certain information that is not expected to change already completed, saving you time. If you applied on line last year, you should already have a FSA ID. If you do not or cannot remember your FSA ID and password, simply retrieve at http://www.fsaid.ed.gov or through a link on the FAFSA on the WEB site. In addition to protecting the privacy of the data the FSA ID also acts as your signature on the Renewal Application. If you are a dependent student, your parents will still have to sign.

I don't think I will be eligible for grant aid; What do I do if I just want a loan?

In order to receive a Federal Direct Loan, the student must complete the FAFSA and meet all the eligibility requirements. After the student provides the Financial Aid Office everything required, the student’s aid will be packaged. You will be required to sign a Promissory Note for the loan. The financial aid office will inform you what you need to do to have the loan processed and approved. All students receiving a Stafford loan must complete an Entrance Interview before loan funds can be disbursed. Keep in mind that the school may also have their own specific requirements to be met before a loan can be certified or disbursed. Check with your school to see what, if anything else, is required.

I received a letter from a company guaranteeing me at least $1000 in scholarships for only $150. Is this a scam?

It could be legitimate but the odds are against it. If it is legitimate, it is probably only a scholarship search, which you can have done for free, either through organizations such as the Arkansas Student Loan Authority or on the internet. Here are some rules of thumb to apply when evaluating such offers:

  1. If you must pay money to get money, it might be a scam.
  2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Spend the time, not the money.
  4. Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships.
  5. Nobody can guarantee that you'll win a scholarship.
  6. Most legitimate scholarship foundations do not charge application fees.
  7. If you are suspicious of an offer, it's usually with good reason.

Before spending the money, check with others to see if anyone has had any experience with this company, check with the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, or check with the Federal Trade Commission or their web site at http://www.ftc.gov. Be absolutely certain before you spend the money.

I have received my Student Aid Report (SAR) and it says I am eligible to recieve a Pell Grant. Does that mean I will get aid?

Your SAR states you MAY be eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant. It further states that the Financial Aid Administrator at your school will determine whether you meet all eligibility requirements to receive aid. The actual amount of aid will depend on the cost of attendance at your school, your enrollment status, congressional budget restrictions, and other factors.

To be eligible you must:

  1. Be a citizen or eligible non-citizen of the United States with a valid social security number;
  2. Have a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) Certificate or pass an approved “ability to benefit” test;
  3. Register (or have registered) for Selective Service if you are a male age of 18 to 25;
  4. Attend a school that participates in the program;
  5. Be working toward a degree or certificate;
  6. Be making satisfactory academic progress toward that degree or certificate;
  7. Not owe a refund on a Federal Pell Grant or be in default on a federal educational loan;
  8. Have “financial need” as determined in part by the data on the FAFSA.

 

Do I have to be admitted to a college to apply for financial aid?

No, you can fill out the FAFSA before you apply to a college. However, many schools require that you be admitted to their institution before they will tell you how much financial aid you may receive at that school. In order for your FAFSA information to be received by the schools you are interested in, you will have to list them on your FAFSA. If you did not designate a school on your FAFSA but would like them to receive your information, you can make corrections to a processed FAFSA application at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. This is the quickest way to add a school. You can also contact the school. They will request your Data Release Number (DRN), a four digit number located in the upper right-hand corner of the front page of your Student Aid Report. This allows the school to request your FAFSA information be sent to them.

 

What makes a student dependent or independent?

Students are classified as dependent or independent because federal student aid programs are based on the concept that students, and their parents or spouse, have the primary responsibility for paying for their post secondary education. You are independent if you can answer “Yes” to at least one of the following:

  1. Are you 24 years old?
  2. Are you married?
  3. Are you enrolled in a graduate or professional program (above a bachelor’s degree)?
  4. Are you an orphan or ward of the court (or were a ward of the court until age 18)?
  5. Do you have legal dependents other than a spouse? (For purposes of this question, dependent means you provide over 50% of the individuals financial support.)
  6. Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces? (Generally, this does not apply to members of the National Guard or Reserve unless called to active duty for reasons other than training.)

If you answer “No” to each of the above questions, you are considered a dependent student for federal aid programs and must report your parent’s income. If you claim to be independent, your school may ask you to submit proof before awarding federal student aid.

If you have special circumstances that you feel warrants you being independent, contact the financial aid office at the school you wish to attend. With proper documentation, the Financial Aid Administrator at each school MAY, based on your individual circumstances, determine that you are independent. This decision is made on an individual basis by the Financial Aid Administrator and does not transfer to another school.

If I am a dependent student according to federal aid regulations, whose income do I report? What if I don't live with my parents?

Report your income and your parent’s income. If your parents are living and married to each other, report their income. If your parents are unmarried and living together, report their income. If you parent is widowed or single, report income for that parent.

If your parents are divorced or separated, report the income of the parent you lived with the most during the past 12 months. If you did not live with one parent more than the other, report income for the parent who provided the most financial support during the past 12 months.

If your parent has remarried, report income for the parent and step-parent.

If you don’t live with your parents, but still answered “No” to the dependency questions, you are still dependent and must provide parents income. Simply living on your own is normally not sufficient reason to consider you independent. If you can’t get their financial information, or there are other circumstances, contact the financial aid office at the school you wish to attend.

What other sources of financial aid are available other than federal aid and how do I apply for them?

Financial aid is available from the State of Arkansas through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE), from institutions and from private sources, such as employers and civic organizations. The Arkansas Department of Higher Education administers a number of grants and scholarships, such as the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, Governor’s Scholars Program, Arkansas Future Grant and Arkansas Workforce Challenge.  Application timeframe begins October 1 of each calendar year. For more information, on these and other ADHE programs, contact the Arkansas Department of Higher Education at 800-547-8839 or 501-371-2050.

Most schools offer institutional scholarships and grants to their students. Because each school sets the eligibility criteria, deadlines, etc, you must contact each school you might attend to get the details for that school’s programs. Because funds are limited, and some schools have early priority deadlines, it is important to contact the schools as soon as possible.

For scholarships from private sources, the high school counselor is usually the best source of information. There are also publications available in the library and bookstores that have information on private sources of financial aid as well as numerous internet sites.