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Glossary of College Funding Terms


Cost of Attendance- This is the “sticker price” of the college.  It includes tuition, room, board, books and supplies, transportation allowance and several categories of estimated miscellaneous expenses.

Tuition Discounting- A practice utilized by colleges and universities to reduce the cost of attendance to a figure that will attract an accepted student to be willing to enroll and fund the remaining cost.  Not necessarily based on merit or need.

Demonstrated Interest- The degree to which you show a college that you have a sincere interest in attending their school.  Colleges may utilize this information for both admission and financial aid purposes.

Enrollment management- The process by which colleges optimize both the demographic mix and the net revenue coming from their incoming and enrolled student body.

Gapping-When a college admits a student and offers them a financial aid package that would require that they pay more (sometimes significantly more) than their “expected family contribution”.  This has been known to occur when colleges wish to offer admission to people of lower economic means, but really don’t expect them to enroll.

Graduation Rate- As the name implies, the % of incoming freshman students who graduate in 4,5, and six academic years.  To view the graduation rates of your chosen school, go to


College Admissions Terms

Early Decision- Where prospective students apply in October or November of their senior year in high school to only their top choice college.  If accepted, with only a few exceptions, the student’s decision to enroll is binding.

Early Action- Similar in time frame to early decision, but the acceptance does not bind the student to attend.

National Decision Day- Generally considered to be May 1 of a students senior year in in high school, this is the day by which they should notify their chosen college of their decision to attend.

Need-Blind- If a college claims to be need-blind, they will make admissions decisions without regard to the students ability to pay.

Need Aware- Basically the opposite of need blind.  Some colleges might allow finances to enter into the decision as to who gets offered admission.



Financial Aid Terms

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)- This is a US Department of Education Form required each year that a full time college student wishes to apply for federally sponsored need based financial aid for the upcoming year at any college (US and even some non US).  It can be accessed at  Generally filled out 9-12 months in advance of the college year one is applying for assistance with, it asks questions about family income and assets.

CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile- Approximately 250 US Colleges require this form in addition to the FAFSA.  It is filled out at a similar time frame and will ask more detailed questions.  For a list of schools that require this form, go to

Expected Family Contribution- After you submit your FAFSA, the Department of Education responds with a calculation of their estimate of what your family unit can contribute to the cost of college for the upcoming academic year.  It doesn’t dictate how you will actually pay the bill.

Need-Based Aid- A combination of grants, loans and employment from both governmental sources and the college itself that is designed to fill at least part of the gap between your expected family contribution and the cost of attendance.

Self Help Aid- A term that describes the portion of need based aid that is not “free money” that does not have to be paid back.  Usually refers to loans and work study jobs.

Tuition Payment Plans- Many colleges adopt these programs to accommodate the portion of tuition that families can cover on a “pay as you go” basis.  Generally interest free and spread out over a 10 month period.

Direct (Stafford) Loans- Loans offered directly to the student from the Federal Government to help fund the cost of undergraduate degree.  Annual caps currently range from $5500-$7500, and the loans can be subsidized (no interest accrues while a full time undergrad) or unsubsidized.  Payback begins no later than six months after graduation or when the students drops below half time status.  Must file FAFSA to obtain access.  See\

PLUS loans-  Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students.  A borrowing resource for parents to obtain financing through the federal government for the cost of their child’s college education.  Usually a higher interest rate than the Direct loan.  See\

Student Aid Report- Once you have filed a completed FAFSA, the Department of Education should respond quickly with this report that tells you your Expected Family Contribution.

Professional Judgment-  If you have unusual family or economic circumstances that a FAFSA form does not fully reflect and make the financial aid officer at your chosen college aware of them, they have the ability to exercise professional judgment in determining whether your need based award can be modified to reflect those issues.

Verification- Recent statistics estimate that about 1/3 of FAFSA forms will be asked to verify at least some of the information on their  FAFSA form.  This could mean copies of tax related documents, investment statements, etc.

IRS Data Retrieval Tool- Part of filing your FAFSA form will include linking your prior years tax return filing to your FAFSA.

Financial Aid Award Letter-If your child is offered admission to a college, they will often receive a letter concurrent with that acceptance that outlines the aid that they are initially awarding.  This award will include loans, grants and/or work-study.  You can accept or reject any element of the award.




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