Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the Washington Financial Aid Association Website!

The members of the Washington Financial Aid Association are financial aid professionals working at colleges and universities in the state of Washington. Our primary mission is to help students access federal, state, institutional and local financial resources in order to make attending college affordable, regardless of your financial resources. We want you to know that your decision to attend college need NOT be based on your ability to pay for it. We hope the information we've provided here will assist you in planning for and making college affordable, especially if you choose to continue your education at a Washington college or university!

If the information we've provided on this website causes confusion or is unclear to you, please feel free to contact a financial aid administrator at your local college or university for assistance. Failing to attend college should not happen because of a lack of financial resources...or a lack of information.

Frequently Asked Financial Aid Questions

The purpose of financial aid is to provide funding for eligible students who want to attend college when their own personal and/or family financial resources are insufficient to cover that cost of attendance. Financial aid is intended to allow you to choose a school, not based on its costs or your financial resources, but on the programs it offers and your interests and abilities.

  1. Who qualifies for financial aid?
  2. What is financial aid?
  3. How do I apply for financial aid and what are the deadlines?
  4. How is financial aid eligibility determined?
  5. What is Cost of Attendance (COA)?
  6. How much does it cost to attend a college or university in Washington?
  7. How is Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated?
  8. I'm a couple years away from attending college. Can I get an estimate of what financial aid I might be eligible to receive?
  9. Can I improve my chances for receiving financial aid?
  10. What is a good financial aid package?
  11. I am an U.S. citizen, but my parents are not. How do I complete the FAFSA?
  12. If I am undocumented, am I eligible for financial aid?
  13. My parents refuse to complete the FAFSA. Now what?
  14. My parents are divorced and I live with my mom, but my dad claims me as his dependent on his federal tax return. Which parent should complete my FAFSA?
  15. My parent has remarried, but my step-parent is refusing to help with my college costs. How do I complete the FAFSA?
  16. The FAFSA asks about my assets. Do I have to report the trust fund left by my grandmother, even though I cannot access it until I am 25 years old?
  17. My parent(s) kicked me out of their house and I have been living with friends ever since. How do I complete the FAFSA?
  18. I don't know where my parents are and I have been living with my grandparents. Do my grandparents complete my FAFSA as my parents?
  19. My parents have relocated out of state, but I stayed in Washington to graduate from my high school. Will I have to pay out of state tuition if I attend a public university in Washington?
  20. My FAFSA says my EFC is way higher than anything we can afford. What can we do?

  1. Who qualifies for financial aid? Generally, every United States citizen or permanent resident is eligible for some form of assistance. Financial aid is offered on the basis of financial need as well as merit (academic achievement or other talents). Federal student and parent loans are also available, regardless of your family income (although parent loans required a credit worthy applicant). You should assume you are eligible for some form(s) of financial assistance and not let a perceived lack of financial resources prevent you from pursuing a college education. Students who are considered for the most financial assistance are typically students from families with the lowest incomes, who also possess a record of strong academic achievement or demonstrated outstanding ability or talent AND who apply for financial assistance early.

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  3. What is financial aid? In addition to scholarships and grants, financial aid also includes student employment and student loans.
    • Scholarships and grants are considered "gift aid" - generally, they do not have to be repaid, making them the most desirable form of assistance. Scholarships are usually awarded on the basis of merit (academic, athletic, or other talent), while grants are generally awarded on the basis of financial need. For information on the available federal grants, click here. For information on the available state grants, click here. For a scholarship matching website specifically for Washington state residents and students attending a Washington college or university, click here
    • Student employment is available at most schools. Some are need-based (federal work study and state work study) and awarded by the financial aid office as part of your financial aid package. Many schools have student jobs on campus that are open to any student enrolled at that school, even if not work-study eligible.
    • Student loans, which you must start repaying after you leave school, are available at all but a handful of schools. Eligibility for most federal loans is need-based, while others are available regardless of your financial status. Private loans are also available from commercial lenders, but eligibility is based on the credit worthiness of the applicant or a co-signer.
    • Parent Loans, which are borrowed by the parents of dependent students, are available at most schools. Eligibility requires a credit-worthy parent or endorser. Although payments can be deferred while the student is enrolled, interest begins accruing as soon as the loan is disbursed.

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  5. How do I apply for financial aid and what are the deadlines?
    • Obtain a Personal Identification Number (PIN) prior to filing the FAFSA so you can use your PIN to sign your on-line FAFSA. You can obtain your PIN at www.pin.ed.gov.
    • File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), on-line at www.fafsa.gov. Filing your FAFSA on-line is more accurate and a much quicker method of applying - after you transmit your electronic FAFSA, you will have the results on the confirmation page immediately.
    • By completing the FAFSA, you are applying for most federal and state student aid programs. For many schools in Washington, the FAFSA is the only application you will need. Check with your school to determine if an additional application is required to be considered for the school's institutional scholarships and grants. For a list of Washington schools that require a separate application, click here.
    • In most cases, you must also be admitted to the school before you will receive an offer of financial aid.
    • Applying on time is critical, as some financial aid programs have limited dollars. Be sure you submit your FAFSA in time to meet the earliest priority filing deadline of the schools you are considering. To check on the financial aid deadline for Washington schools, click here.
    • You must file the FAFSA each year in order to renew your financial aid award for a subsequent academic year. Applications can be filed after January 1 for each year, e.g., to apply for the 2012-2013 academic year, you can begin applying January 1, 2012.

    Need help with completing the FAFSA? Check out College Goal Sunday in the month of January, 2012 (http://www.collegegoalsundaywa.org/) and the FAFSA workshops being held in your local high schools. These events are designed to help families electronically file their FAFSA. For more information about the FAFSA, click here.

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  7. How is financial aid eligibility determined? Your financial aid eligibility is the difference between the school's cost of attendance and the amount you are expected to pay toward those costs. Financial aid eligibility will increase with a higher cost of attendance and/or a lower expected family contribution.
    Cost of Attendance (COA)
    - Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
    = financial aid eligibility (NEED)
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  9. What is Cost of Attendance (COA)? Cost of attendance is made up of:
    • tuition and fees (varies by school)
    • room and meals (approximately $9000 per nine month academic year)
    • books and supplies (approximately $1000 per nine month academic year)
    • personal and transportation expenses (approximately $2,000 per nine month academic year)

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  11. How much does it cost to attend a college or university in Washington?
    • Public, two year technical or community colleges: The average cost of attendance at a Washington two year public college is about $17,000 in 2011-12, which includes tuition and fees, room and meals, books and supplies, and personal and transportation. All of these schools participate in federal and state financial aid programs, although some schools do not participate in the student loan programs. These schools offer short term certificate programs as well as two-year Associate of Arts programs, many of which can be transferred and credited toward the first two years of your education at a four year school.
    • Public, four year universities: The average cost of attendance at a Washington four year public college is about $21,000 in 2011-12, which includes tuition and fees, room and meals, books and supplies, and personal and transportation. All of these schools participate in federal and state financial aid programs. These schools offer four year bachelor degree programs as well as advanced degree programs (masters and doctoral degrees).
    • Private, non-profit colleges and university: The average cost of attendance at a Washington four year private college is $40,000 in 2011-12. All of these schools participate in federal and state financial aid programs, as well as offering institutional grants and scholarships to help offset their higher tuition rates. These schools offer four year bachelor degree programs as well as advanced degree programs (masters and doctoral degree).
    • Private, for-profit or vocational schools: The average cost of attendance for these schools varies and requires contacting the school directly to obtain specific program costs. All of these schools participate in some of the federal and state aid programs, as well as offering some institutional scholarships. These schools offer short term certificate programs as well as two year Associate of Arts degrees and a limited array of four year bachelor degree programs.

    For a complete listing of schools in Washington State, click on: http://www.hecb.wa.gov/AboutOurSystem/Institutions

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  13. How is Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated? The information you provide on the FAFSA is applied to the federal formula to calculate the expected family contribution. The four major components in the formula include:
    • Income of parents and student. The EFC generally increases as income increases. Some forms of untaxed income are not included in the FAFSA application.
    • Assets, excluding the value of your primary residence and assets with retirement tax status, such as IRA accounts, 401K, pensions, or Keogh accounts, etc. As a student's assets increases, so does EFC. Parent's assets must be greater than a "retirement protection" threshold (based on the parent's age), before it will have an effect on the EFC.
    • Family size (As family size increases, EFC decreases)
    • Number in college, but not including parents and running start students. (As number in college increases, EFC per student decreases)

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  15. I'm a couple years away from attending college. Can I get an estimate of what financial aid I might be eligible to receive? Yes. Here's what you'd want to do:
    • First, complete the FAFSA4caster, which is a shortened version of the FAFSA, which will provide you with an estimated EFC - how much your family would be expected to contribute toward your college cost on an annual basis. The FAFSA4caster is located at www.FAFSA4caster.ed.gov.
    • Second, find out the cost of attendance (COA) at the schools you're interested in attending. Subtracting the EFC from these costs will give you a rough idea of your financial aid eligibility at that school. Remember that costs generally increase each year everywhere and colleges and universities are no exception.
    • Beginning in October of 2011, all schools participating in federal student aid programs will be required to post a "Net Price Calculator" on their website. This calculator will estimate how much your total "out-of-pocket" costs will be at that school. The "out-of-pocket" costs is the difference between the school's cost of attendance after subtracting the average scholarship/grant award you could expect to receive at that school, based on the information you submit on the calculator.

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  17. Can I improve my chances for receiving financial aid? There are several steps you can take to improve your eligibility for additional financial assistance:
    • Do well in school. As mentioned earlier, many scholarships are awarded simply on the basis of academic achievement (your high school GPA and/or SAT/ACT scores) so it does pay to study hard and do well in school. Scholarships may also be awarded on the basis of leadership and community service. Doing well in school also improves the likelihood of successfully completing your college degree or certificate program.
    • Excel in a sought-after talent. Scholarships are awarded for athletic excellence, as well as exceptional ability in music, forensics, drama, dance, and other abilities. Availability of these awards vary from school to school.
    • Apply for admission and financial aid on time. Admission demand at some schools may exceed their capacity and a qualified, but late applicant may be denied admission due to a lack of space. Funding for some financial aid programs are limited so you want to be "in the pool" when there is the most financial aid dollars available. To see the application deadline of the Washington school(s) you are interested in attending, click here.
    • Apply for any scholarship for which you are eligible. This isn't as difficult as it used to be. Use the free Washington-only scholarship matching search engine, www.thewashboard.org.

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  19. What is a good financial aid package? The best financial aid package is one that offers enough gift assistance (scholarships and grants) that reduces your out-of-pocket costs to an amount that you are capable of paying within your current financial means. If your educational costs exceed your gift assistance and your ability to pay, then you may need to consider borrowing student loans or earning money (under the work study programs or with your own employment) to pay the difference. An inadequate financial aid package is one whose total assistance, when added to your ability to pay, falls short of the amount needed to pay for your total educational costs.

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  21. I am an U.S. citizen, but my parents are not. How do I complete the FAFSA? If the student does not meet the definition of an independent student, parental data must still be provided, even if the parents are not U.S. citizens. Parents' social security numbers should be reported as 000-00-0000; their income, if paid in foreign currency, should be converted to the U.S. dollar equivalent and their signature mailed in on the signature page that the student would print from the FAFSA website.

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  23. If I am undocumented, am I eligible for financial aid? Financial aid from federal and state programs is available only to U.S. citizens or permanent non-residents. Some scholarships may be available from private sources, but you are otherwise ineligible for most aid programs.

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  25. My parents refuse to complete the FAFSA. Now what? Other than merit based aid, the annual maximum unsubsidized Direct Loan ($5500 for first year students) is the only aid a financial aid administrator can award to you if you are a dependent student, but your parents refuse to provide their information on the FAFSA. If this is your situation, contact the financial aid administrator at the school you wish to attend for filing instructions/assistance.


  26. My parents are divorced and I live with my mom, but my dad claims me as his dependent on his federal tax return. Which parent should complete my FAFSA? You do NOT get to choose which parent completes the FAFSA. The parent you lived with the most over the past 12 months completes your FAFSA, regardless of who gets to claim you as their IRS tax exemption. If you lived with both parents equally (which is nearly impossible to do), the parent that provided the greater portion of your support over the past 12 months is the parent who completes your FAFSA.

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  28. My parent has remarried, but my step-parent is refusing to help with my college costs. How do I complete the FAFSA? Your step-parent may refuse to help you with your college costs, but your FAFSA must be completed with your step-parent's financial information. Step-parent's information is required if your parent married your step-parent prior to completing the FAFSA. A pre-marital or nuptial agreement does not remove the obligation to provide financial information on the FAFSA.

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  30. The FAFSA asks about my assets. Do I have to report the trust fund left by my grandmother, even though I cannot access it until I am 25 years old? Yes. The FAFSA only excludes small family farms and businesses and assets that are specifically for retirement purposes (and coded that way by the IRS). Therefore, trust funds, real estate holdings, second homes, etc., all have to be reported on the FAFSA.

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  32. My parent(s) kicked me out of their house and I have been living with friends ever since. How do I complete the FAFSA? If you are still considered a dependent student for financial aid purposes, responsibility for your college education still rests with you and your parents, even if they've kicked you out. They must still file the FAFSA. If, however, a court has made you an emancipated minor, you can file as an independent student without parental information. If the parent-child relationship was broken a long time ago but there was not court action taken to make you an emancipated minor, you may be able to file as an independent student if a counselor, clergy, or social worker, can document your status. Contact your financial aid administrator about the documentation they will need to consider this option.

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  34. I don't know where my parents are and I have been living with my grandparents. Do my grandparents complete my FAFSA as my parents? No, your grandparents are not your parents unless they have adopted you as their legal dependent. Contact your financial aid administrator to find out what documentation you need to provide in order to be considered an independent student.

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  36. My parents have relocated out of state, but I stayed in Washington to graduate from my high school. Will I have to pay out of state tuition if I attend a public university in Washington? Generally, if you graduated from a Washington high school, domiciled (lived) in Washington for the 12 months prior to starting college, have a WA driver's license or WA state ID, and are registered to vote in the state of Washington, you would still be considered a state resident and eligible for in-state tuition and WA state aid programs (as long as you don't do anything to establish residency in another state).

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  38. My FAFSA says my EFC is way higher than anything we can afford. What can we do? If the EFC is higher than what your family can afford because the 2012 income is much lower than the 2011 income that you reported on the FAFSA, then you should contact your school to request consideration of special circumstances. You can also review the FAFSA information with your school to be sure information was not filed incorrectly (for instance, reporting parental income as the studentís income.) However, a strong and stable income and/or significant assets correctly reported on the FAFSA will mean a larger EFC, with the family expected to pay a larger portion of your educational expenses.

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