Glossary

You may see new terms when inquiring about Financial Aid.  Here are a few definitions you might find helpful.  Click on any term listed to direct you to a definition:  

Appeal   An appeal is a formal request to have a Financial Aid Administrator review your aid eligibility and possibly use Professional Judgment to adjust the figures. For example, if you believe the financial information on your financial aid application does not reflect your family's current ability to pay, e.g., because of death of a parent, unemployment, or other unusual circumstances, you should definitely make an appeal. The Financial Aid Administrator may require documentation of the special circumstances or of other information listed on your financial aid application.

Award Letter  An award letter is an official document issued by the financial aid office that lists all of the financial aid awarded to the student. This letter provides details on their analysis of your financial need and the breakdown of your financial aid package according to amount, source, and type of aid. The award letter will include the terms and conditions for the financial aid and information about the cost of attendance. You are required to sign a copy of the letter, indicating whether you accept or decline each source of aid, and return it to the financial aid office. Some schools call the award letter the Financial Aid Notification (FAN).

Cost of attendance (COA)  The cost of attendance is also known as the cost of education or budget, is the total amount it should cost the student to go to school. This amount includes tuition and fees, room and board, and allowances for books and supplies, transportation, and personal and incidental expenses. Loan fees, if applicable, may also be included in the COA. Childcare and expenses for disabilities may also be included at the discretion of the Financial Aid Administrator. Schools establish different standard budget amounts for students living on-campus and off-campus, married and unmarried students, and in-state and out-of-state students.

Custodial Parent  If a student's parents are divorced or separated, the custodial parent is the one with whom the student lived the most during the past 12 months. Much of a student's need analysis is based on financial information supplied by the custodial parent.

Dependency Status  A student's dependency status determines to what degree the student has access to parent financial resources. A parent refusing to provide support for their child's education is not sufficient for the child to be declared independent.

An independent student is one who is at least 24 years old as of January 1, is married, is a graduate or professional student, has a legal dependent other than a spouse, is a Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, or is an orphan or ward of the court (or was a ward of the court until age 18). All other students are considered dependent.

If the Financial Aid Administrator believes that you are not an independent student they can require you to provide proof of independent status to qualify, and their decision on your status is generally not subject to appeal.

For details on what constitutes a Veteran, please see Veteran below.

See your Financial Aid Administrator if you have any special circumstances. The FAA may be able to do an override of your dependency status on the FAFSA, if warranted by involuntary dissolution of the family or other very unusual situations. Special circumstances that are sometimes sufficient for an override include:

  • A legal restraining order has been issued against your parents because of abusive behavior.
  • Both of your parents have been incarcerated.
  • Your parents live in another country and you have been granted refugee status by the U.S. Immigration Service.
  • Your parents live in a country where they cannot easily leave or get money out.

You do not qualify for independent status just because your parents have decided to not claim you as an exemption on their tax returns or are refusing to provide support for your college education. You must provide documentation to the satisfaction of the Financial Aid Administrator that you are truly self-supporting for them to override your dependency status.

Dependent  For a child or other person to be considered your dependent, they must live with you and you must provide them with more than half of their support. Spouses do not count as dependents in the Federal Methodology. You and your spouse cannot both claim the same child as a dependent.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the amount of money that the family is expected to be able to contribute to the student's education, as determined by the Federal Methodology need analysis formula approved by Congress. The EFC includes the parent contribution and the student contribution, and depends on the student's dependency status, family size, number of family members in school, taxable and nontaxable income, and assets. The difference between the cost of attendance (COA) and the EFC is the student's financial need, and is used in determining the student's eligibility for need-based financial aid.

If there are unusual financial circumstances, such as high medical expenses, loss of employment, or death of a parent, that may affect your ability to pay for your education, tell your Financial Aid Administrator (FAA). He or she can adjust the COA or EFC to compensate.

Federal Methodology  Federal Methodology (FM) is the need analysis formula used to determine the EFC. Federal Methodology takes family size, the number of family members in college, taxable and nontaxable income, and assets into account. Unlike most Institutional Methodologies, however, Federal Methodology does not consider the net value of the family residence.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used to apply for Pell Grants and all other need-based aid. The FAFSA may be completed online. (PLEASE NOTE: Clicking on the following link will take you away from the MEFA web site.)

MassGrant The MassGrant is need-based grant funding awarded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for state residents. It is available to families based on residency requirements, financial need, and by completing the FAFSA by the required filing date. For more information, contact the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance at 617-727-9420 or visit their website at http://www.osfa.mass.edu/. (PLEASE NOTE: Clicking on the following link will take you away from the MEFA web site.)

Merit-based  Financial aid that is merit-based depends on your academic, artistic, or athletic merit, or some other criteria, and does not depend on the existence of financial need. Merit-based awards use your grades, test scores, hobbies, and special talents to determine your eligibility for scholarships.

Need  The difference between the Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the student's financial need - the gap between the cost of attending the school and the student's resources. The financial aid package is based on the amount of financial need. The process of determining a student's need is known as need analysis.

Cost of Attendance (COA) - Expected Family Contribution (EFC) ----------------------------------------- = Financial Need

Need Analysis Need analysis is the process of determining a student's financial need by analyzing the financial information provided by the student and his or her parents (and spouse, if any) on a financial aid form. The student must submit a need analysis form to apply for need-based aid. Need analysis forms include the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Financial Aid PROFILE.

Need-based Financial aid that is need-based depends on your financial situation. Most government sources of financial aid are need-based.

Need-blind Admissions Under need-blind admissions, the school decides whether to make an offer of admission to a student without considering the student's financial situation. Most schools use a need-blind admissions process. A few schools will use financial need to decide whether to include marginal students in the wait list.

Pell Grant  The Pell grant is a federal grant that provides funds of up to $4,050 based on the student's financial need.

Professional Judgment  For need-based federal aid programs, the Financial Aid Administrator can adjust the EFC, adjust the COA, or change the dependency status (with documentation) when extenuating circumstances exist. For example, if a parent becomes unemployed, disabled, or deceased, the FAA can decide to use estimated income information for the award year instead of the actual income figures from the base year. This delegation of authority from the federal government to the Financial Aid Administrator is called Professional Judgment (PJ).

PROFILE®  The CSS PROFILE® is an additional financial aid application that is required at many private colleges and universities. It asks additional family income and asset information for the purpose of awarding institutional funding. There is a fee to register for the PROFILE and a fee for each school to which you send PROFILE information. The form can be completed online. (PLEASE NOTE: Clicking on the following link will take you away from the MEFA web site.)

Student Aid Report  The Student Aid Report (SAR) summarizes the information included in the FAFSA and must be provided to your school's Financial Aid Office. The SAR will also indicate the amount of Pell Grant eligibility, if any, and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). You should receive a copy of your SAR four to six weeks after you file your FAFSA. Review your SAR and correct any errors on part two of the SAR. Keep a photocopy of the SAR for your records. To request a duplicate copy of your SAR, call 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Verification  Verification is a review process in which the Financial Aid Office (FAO) determines the accuracy of the information provided on the student's financial aid application. During the verification process the student and parent will be required to submit documentation for the amounts listed (or not listed) on the financial aid application. Such documentation may include signed copies of the most recent federal and state income tax returns for you, your spouse (if any) and your parents, proof of citizenship, proof of registration with Selective Service, and copies of Social Security benefit statements, W2, and 1099 forms, among other things. Financial aid applications are randomly selected by the federal processor for verification, with most schools verifying at least 1/3 of all applications. If there is an asterisk next to the EFC figure on your Student Aid Report (SAR), your SAR has been selected for verification. Schools may select additional students for verification if they suspect fraud. Some schools undergo 100% verification. If any discrepancies are uncovered during verification, the financial aid office may require additional information to clear up the discrepancies. Such discrepancies may cause your final financial aid package to be different from the initial package described on the award letter you received from the school. If you refuse to submit the required documentation, your financial aid package will be cancelled and no aid awarded.