The Alphabet Soup of Financial-Aid Abbreviations

College-aid offers are often filled with abbreviations students and their families might not understand. Here is a cheat sheet.

As high-school seniors mull college acceptances and decide where to attend college in the fall, the economic turmoil created by the coronavirus is making financial-aid offers even more crucial.

Some students are getting a little extra time to make a decision this year: More than 300 institutions have pushed back their normal May 1 deposit deadlines, generally by a month, and in some cases longer, according to data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which is compiling campus-admission changes resulting from the coronavirus from more than 900 institutions.

Even so, decisions will have to be made in relatively short order, so it is important that students and their families understand award letters, which are often filled with an alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations.

Schools generally will offer a list of definitions, but these may not be on the award letter itself, says Jennifer Satalino, a financial-aid expert with Educational Credit Management Corp., a provider of free training and resources focused on financial literacy and college preparedness. For instance, if it’s a hard-copy award letter, the definitions may be on a separate page. If it’s on a student portal, the definitions may be on another webpage.

And as always, if a family isn’t happy with an aid offer or if their financial situation has changed dramatically, they should know they can appeal to a college for more aid.

“They can ask for additional consideration at any time; they don’t need to commit to enrolling and pay a deposit first, according to a spokeswoman for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Here is a quick guide to help families understand some of the terminology behind financial-aid awards.

Expected family contribution (EFC): This is a measure of a family’s financial strength calculated according to a federally established formula. The calculation includes a family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits such as unemployment or Social Security, as well as family size and the number of family members expected to attend college during the year. Some families assume the EFC represents what they will actually pay, but it could be more or less, in some cases significantly so.

Cost of attendance (COA): This is the estimated cost of attending a particular college or university each year. It includes tuition and fees, room-and-board estimates for living on campus, off campus or with a parent or parents, as well as allowances for books, supplies, transportation and other expenses, if applicable.

Campus-based aid (CB): The federal government allocates a certain amount of money to each participating college and university for student aid. Some institutions include this as a category on their award offer, even though it is irrelevant to students.

Direct loan (DL): This is a federal student loan made by the Education Department. It can be subsidized or unsubsidized, based on a student’s financial need.

Family financial responsibility (FFR): Many schools award institutional need-based scholarships and grants based on a more-comprehensive calculation of family financial circumstances using information provided on the College Board’s CSS Profile or the school’s own financial-aid form. This can result in a higher (or lower) figure than the Fafsa might indicate with its expected family contribution.

Fed Sub Staff: These are direct subsidized loans from the federal government to eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional students who demonstrate financial need. Some people refer to these loans as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans. The Education Department pays the interest on this loan type while a student is in school at least half-time, for the first six months after leaving school and during a period of deferment.

Fed Unsub Staff: These are direct unsubsidized loans from the federal government available to undergraduate and graduate students; there is no requirement to demonstrate financial need. Some people refer to these loans as Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans. The college or university determines the amount a student can borrow based on the cost of attendance and other financial aid received. Students are responsible for paying the interest on a direct unsubsidized loan during all periods. Students can choose not to pay interest while they are in school, but interest will still accrue during this time.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): This is a grant for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. Students may receive between $100 and $4,000 a year, depending on their financial need, when they apply, other aid they receive and the availability of funds at a particular school, according to Federal Student Aid.

Federal work study (FWS): The federal work-study program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay for their education. Students must fill out the Fafsa to be eligible for this type of aid.

Full-time student (FT): This generally means an undergraduate student who is enrolled for at least 12 credit hours per semester or equivalent. For a graduate student, the enrollment requirements can vary among colleges. Some types of financial aid (usually state-based) require that a student be attending full-time order to receive aid.

Grade point average (GPA): OK, an easy one. This is generally calculated by adding all the numbered grades a student has received and dividing them by the number of credits he or she has taken.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant (IASG): This is a federal grant to qualifying students with a parent or guardian who died as a result of U.S. military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. Students eligible for a federal Pell Grant cannot receive an IASG.

Master promissory note (MPN): This is the form a student or parent must sign to borrow under the federal loan programs. The form allows borrowers to receive loans for a single academic year, or for multiple academic years (up to 10 years), without having to sign a new note.

Student contribution (SC): This is the amount a student can reasonably expect to contribute toward his or her educational expenses. Students can generally meet this expectation through summer or term-time work, with scholarships or through other savings.

Parent contribution (PC): The portion of the family’s expected family contribution that the parents, as opposed to the student, are expected to cover.

Parent Plus L.: This is an abbreviation for a Plus loan offered by the federal government to parents. Funds can be received up to the cost of attendance, less other financial aid received.

Part-time student (PT): This generally means a student who takes fewer than 12 credits a semester or equivalent. Part-time students are eligible for federal financial aid provided they are enrolled at least half-time.

Sub loan: This refers to direct subsidized loans from the federal government.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants (Teach): These are federal grants for undergraduate and graduate students awarded in exchange for specific future teaching service in designated high-need fields and low-income elementary and secondary schools. For students who don’t complete the required teaching service, the grant becomes a federal direct unsubsidized loan that must be repaid.

Unsub loan: This refers to direct unsubsidized loans from the federal government.

Ms. Winokur Munk is a writer in West Orange, N.J.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Post on April 6, 2020

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