Center for College Planning's FAFSA Filing Video

FSA ID Video

Understanding the Award Letter

Financial Aid Award Worksheet

The Federal Financial Aid Application Process

  1. You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) soon after October 1 of the year you intend to enroll in school. Complete the FAFSA online at fafsa.gov. Check with each of the colleges to which you apply for specific deadlines. Be certain to ask if any other supplemental forms (such as the CSS PROFILE Application, also available October 1, online at collegeboard.org) are required.
  2. When filing the FAFSA, it is easiest to retrieve federal tax data by using the online IRS Data Retrieval Tool to transfer your tax data into the FAFSA. If this is not possible, enter the data from your tax form, and you may be asked by the Financial Aid Office at a college to update your information at a later date by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool or by sending the college or university an IRS Tax Return Transcript that can be ordered from the IRS website at irs.gov. The IRS will mail only one copy of the Tax Return Transcript to you, so if you are sending it to multiple colleges, you will need to photocopy the transcript and keep your original copy.
  3. After completing the FAFSA, your information is submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. The Department calculates, based on a complex methodology, your ability to pay for the cost of attendance. Your ability to pay is called the EXPECTED FAMILY CONTRIBUTION (EFC). The factors used in determining the EFC include: parent and student annual income and assets, family size, number of family members attending college, taxes paid, and more.
  4. The Department of Education sends the FAFSA information, including the EFC, to every school you listed on the FAFSA. The financial aid officers subtract your EFC from the COST OF ATTENDANCE to determine your eligibility for financial aid.
  5. The financial aid officer calculates, based on the campus’ available resources, the amount of financial aid the institution is able to offer the family. BE AWARE: Because a student is eligible for a certain amount of financial aid does not mean the student is guaranteed to receive that amount. The unmet need is called the GAP. To get an idea ahead of time of the possible GAP you are facing, visit fafsa.gov, scroll to the bottom of the page and link to the U.S. Department of Education's FAFSA4caster.
  6. The financial aid officer sends the student an AWARD LETTER that details the amount of financial aid the college is able to offer the student. The aid is broken into categories of loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study.
  7. Remember, there are a number of scholarships and grants that can help with the burden of paying for college. Begin your search by checking with your school’s guidance office for local and regional scholarships. Also visit nhcf.org and fastweb.com to view other scholarship opportunities.

Financial Aid Changes Beginning October 1, 2016

  • The FAFSA form for the 2017-2018 academic year will become available October 1, 2016 and will be released every October 1 moving forward.
  • While the FAFSA is available earlier, college financial aid deadlines may not be impacted. Each college has its own individual deadline for when they would like the FAFSA filed by. Make sure to meet all deadlines to maximize any institutional aid you are eligible for!

Tips for Filing the FAFSA

  1. To begin filing the FAFSA, go to fafsa.gov. The FAFSA is always filed from the perspective of the student, so keep in mind when it says “you,” it means “you, the student.”

    Both student and one parent will need an FSA ID to electronically sign the FAFSA. To create your FSA ID go to: fsaid.ed.gov. To watch a video on creating your FSA ID, click here.

    You may apply for these prior to filing the FAFSA (you receive them immediately), or you can register for them while you are completing the FAFSA form. You will be prompted to verify your email address or FSA ID number by accessing a link sent to your email. This is not necessary to do – you may still use your newly-created FSA ID, however it will take between one and three days to verify the information with the Social Security Administration.

    Be sure to keep your FSA ID username and password in a safe place. Currently, FSA IDs are valid for only 18 months.

  2. At the beginning of the application, the student will be asked to create a Save Key. This is a temporary password that lets you return to a partially completed FAFSA. If you and your child are accessing his or her FAFSA from different locations, your child should do his or her part and then share the Save Key with you. You’ll need to enter it to get access to your child’s FAFSA.

  3. The FAFSA requires federal tax information for both the parent(s) and student. See below for a chart that illustrates which tax year information is required on the FAFSA based on the academic year.

    When a Student Is Attending College (School Year) When a Student Can Submit a FAFSA Which Year’s Income and Tax Information Is Required
    July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017 January 1, 2016–June 30, 2017 2015
    July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018 October 1, 2016–June 30, 2018 2015
    July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019 October 1, 2017–June 30, 2019 2016

    Note: If your family circumstances have changed since the year reported on your FAFSA, i.e. large change in income, marital status change, parent separation, large medical bill debt, etc., contact the college’s financial aid office and share that information with them. Each college may have their own process and guidelines, so contact each one directly.

  4. When reporting the investment net worth, report the current value minus debt owed.

  5. The total value of protected retirement savings are not included as part of investment net worth, but you must provide your annual contribution.

  6. The FAFSA allows for 10 school choices at a time. You will be asked to note if the student will be living on-campus, off-campus, or with a parent.

  7. When reporting parent information, it is important to include information from the parent that the student lived with 51% of the time. Parents must indicate the month and year they were married/remarried or divorced/separated. If the custodial parent is remarried, then all income and asset information from the current spouse must also be included. It is important to note that filing the FAFSA as a parent does not obligate a parent to pay, but does assure your student will qualify for federal student aid.

  8. Be sure you or your child sees the confirmation page pop up on the screen so you’ll know the FAFSA has been submitted. Read the FAFSA confirmation page carefully. There are a few differences between the e-mailed confirmation (which arrives later) and the one you see at the end of the application, so consider printing or saving the confirmation page before you exit.

  9. If you have more than one child attending college, select the option on the confirmation page to transfer your parent information into the other child’s FAFSA.

  10. Applying for financial aid may require additional forms such as the CSS Profile or an institutional financial aid form (this form would be specific to the institution). You may also have to provide copies of your income tax returns or bank statements to the colleges. Make sure you submit all required documents by the colleges' deadlines and respond to correspondence from the financial aid offices immediately.

FAFSA Filing FAQs

FAFSA Filing & Parent Information

A: Yes. Many families mistakenly think they don't qualify for aid and prevent themselves from receiving financial aid by failing to apply for it. In addition, there are a few sources of aid such as unsubsidized federal student loans and PLUS loans that are available regardless of need but require that you have completed the FAFSA to be eligible to receive. The FAFSA form is free. There is no good excuse for not applying. College counselors at NHHEAF will help you file FAFSA for free. Just call 888.7.GRADUATE x119.

A: No. You can apply for financial aid any time after October 1 for the following academic year. You need to be admitted before the school will put together a package for you and to actually receive funds you must be admitted and enrolled at the university.

A: Yes. If you are receiving any kind of financial aid from university or government sources, you must report the scholarship to the financial aid office. Unfortunately, the university may adjust your financial aid package to compensate. Nevertheless, the outside scholarship will have some beneficial effects. At some universities outside scholarships are used to reduce the self-help level. At other universities, outside scholarships are used to replace loans instead of grants. To be certain about how outside scholarships might affect your financial aid award, it is advisable to research the financial aid policies of the schools to which you are applying (policies can usually be found on the school’s Web site under “Financial Aid”) or you can call or e-mail their financial aid offices.

A: The money you earn from Federal Work-Study is generally subject to federal and state income tax, but exempt from FICA taxes (provided you are enrolled full time and work less than half-time). Federal Work-Study earnings during the calendar year should be included in the totals for AGI and Additional Financial Information on the FAFSA. Work-study earnings should only be included in the Additional Financial Information section when they represent financial aid to the student, since the answer to this question is used as an exclusion from taxed income. The student should also be careful to report amounts based on the calendar year, not the school year.

A: If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA. The custodial parent is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. (The twelve-month period is the twelve-month period ending on the FAFSA application date, not the previous calendar year). For determining household size (the number of family members), the same criterion above applies to all children (under the age of 24).

A: Capitalization of interest is when the interest that accumulates on a loan is added to the outstanding principal balance, increasing the total principal balance. (Example: interest that accrues during a forbearance that is added to the loan prior to entering repayment).

A: If a parent is denied a PLUS loan, the student/family may consider other options. A different parent may apply for a PLUS loan, the parent may get an endorser or, more typically, the school may certify additional Direct loan money for the student ($4000 for freshman/sophomore years; $5000 for junior/senior years).

Top Questions for Your Financial Aid Office

  1. Each college lists a cost of attendance on their website, which includes tuition, fees, and some other expenses. However, you may want to ask financial aid if there are any costs not accounted for in the cost of attendance (for example, some majors may require extra materials/books).
  2. What are the terms/conditions of the aid package (i.e., treatment of outside scholarships, loan repayment policies, renewal criteria, etc.)?
  3. How will my aid package change from year to year? Will loan amounts increase? What impact will cost increases have on the aid package? What will happen if my financial situation changes? Are my scholarships valid for four years?
  4. If the financial aid award package is insufficient for me to attend the desired institution, under what conditions, if any, will the financial aid office adjust the aid package?
  5. When can my family expect to receive college bills? How many times a year will I be billed? Is a tuition payment plan available?
  6. Is all the financial aid credited to my account, or will I receive checks for some or all of the financial aid awarded? What about my student employment earnings?
  7. How are work study jobs assigned? How many hours per week will I be expected or allowed to work?
  8. How much money should I have for the first week of college to cover costs of my books, parking registration, phone and cable set-up, etc.? (Much of this money is due before the student receives his/her first work-study paycheck.)
  9. Is there a financial institution or bank with fee-free ATMs and/or check cashing on or near campus?
  10. Ask your student loan provider(s): Do you offer life-of-loan servicing, or will the loan be sold during repayment? Do you offer a fixed or variable interest rate? When do I have to start paying on the loan? Do you offer a co-borrower release program? Do you offer a discount if I pay automatically?

Securing Your School Loans: Entrance Counseling and the Master Promissory Note


Okay, you’ve completed all your admissions requirements and completed your free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). Your college of choice received all this information, accepted you, and used your FAFSA (and maybe a few other financial forms as well) to determine what your total financial aid package for one year of school would be.

Because you completed your FAFSA, you were initially offered a Direct/Stafford loans from the federal government and it’s possible you were later offered a federal Perkins loan as well. However, before your federal loans can be dispersed to your school to pay for part of your tuition, fees, room, and board, you will need to do what’s called entrance counseling and then sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN). Your school will typically notify you by e-mail or by way of a message on your student account on the college website to complete these final two tasks. You will be prompted to go to studentloans.gov and there on the left side menu you will see links for completing both of these tasks. Have your FSA ID handy because you will use this ID to sign into the site for entrance counseling and you will use it to sign your MPN.

Entrance counseling is a bit like a short quiz designed to make you understand your rights and responsibilities as a loan borrower (don’t worry, it’s not a difficult “quiz” by any means; it is very self-explanatory). Basically, you will be asked to read a little on various loan topics including:

  • Understanding Your Loans
  • Managing Your Spending
  • Planning to Repay
  • Avoiding Default
  • Making Finances a Priority

And you will answer questions about these topics in order to gauge your own competency with them.

To complete entrance counseling as an undergraduate student or graduate/professional student, you will need:

  • 20-30 minutes to complete
  • Your FSA ID
  • Name(s) of the school(s) you wish to notify of counseling completion

Useful Information to Have:

Any details on your income, financial aid, and living expenses. Some of this information can be found in:

  • Your student account information
  • A copy of the award letter from your school’s financial aid office (if you have received it)
  • A listing of the tuition and fees for your school. Visit CollegeNavigator.gov

How to Access Entrance Counseling:

Sign in to studentloans.gov using your FSA ID

  • Select “Complete Counseling” on the left-hand navigation bar
  • Select “Entrance Counseling” under “Choose Counseling Type”

If you sign in, you will be able to:

  • See your federal student loan information available in the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS)
  • Notify schools of counseling completion
  • View proof of counseling completion

Parents borrowing a Direct Plus loan to pay for their child’s education are not required to complete entrance counseling.

Helpful Link: Entrance Counseling FAQ

The MPN needs to be signed before your loans can be dispersed to your school. You will put in some personal info, provide some references, and sign with your FSA ID. You may only need to sign the MPN once to cover all your federal loans for all four years of your undergraduate career, unless you change schools.

Students who need to complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN) will need:

  1. Approximately 30 minutes to complete
    • MPN must be completed in a single session
  2. Your FSA ID
    • Students must sign in using their own FSA ID.
  3. Personal Information
    • Permanent Address
    • Mailing Address (if different from permanent address)
    • Telephone Number
    • Email Address
  4. Employer Information
    • Employer Name
    • Employer Address
  5. School Name
  6. Reference Information for two people with different U.S. addresses who have known you for at least 3 years. The first reference should be a parent or a legal guardian.
    • Name of each reference
    • Address of each reference
    • Email address for each reference
    • Telephone number of each reference
    • Relationship of each reference to the student

If you have previously completed either a Direct Loan MPN or a Direct PLUS Loan Request, some of this information may be populated for you. You should review all populated information carefully for accuracy.

Helpful Link: Master Promissory Note FAQ

Financial Aid Award Letters

Students will only receive an award letter once they have been accepted to a college and have submitted the required financial aid form(s). This letter, or financial aid package, is the official offer of financial aid from the college. The financial aid package may include different sources of aid to help you and your family meets the gap between your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the actual college cost.

Financial aid award letters look different at each college. Many create their own template that works best for their school. Some colleges include their estimated cost of attendance, or how much a student will potentially need for one year of college (including billable costs such as tuition, fees, and room and board if living on campus, as well as non-billable costs, such as transportation, books, supplies, etc.) right on their financial aid award letter, while others do not.

Some financial aid award letters will break down the amount of free money offered (grants and scholarships) separately from loan options (Federal Direct Loans and Federal Perkins Loans) and may include information such as net costs (a college’s cost of attendance minus the total amount of grants and scholarships awarded). The financial aid award letter(s) you receive from your college(s), may look different, so it is important to understand the various components listed on yours.

Since college financial aid award letters will differ in appearance from college to college, review the letters carefully to determine your family’s true out-of-pocket costs (cost of the college less grants and scholarships) at each college. Keep in mind that any Federal Direct Loans and Perkins Loans will need to be repaid, so while they are excellent loan options, they must be included in the total cost of the college. Use a worksheet like this one to help you conduct a side-by-side comparison of your college financial aid offers. Consumer Finance also offers a very useful website that helps families compare college costs and calculate possible loan payments based on the amount borrowed.

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