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? Generally, every United States citizen or permanent resident is eligible for some form of assistance. Undocumented Washington Residents may qualify for the Washington State Need Grant. Most Financial aid is offered on the basis of financial need. Merit awards (based on academic achievement or other talents) are also available. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. How do I apply for financial aid?
        • Apply for admission to the school(s) that you are interested in attending. This application is usually completed in the fall of your senior year in high school for the next academic year. If you are already out of high school and looking to start college, contact the admission office of the school you are interested in attending for application deadlines.
        • Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID from This will be your electronic signature when you complete the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students whose parent(s) are required to provide their information on the FAFSA should also apply for their own FSA ID.
        • Complete the FAFSA at This application is available, beginning October 1 each year. The FAFSA will ask you to provide information about your family’s income, taxes and current assets, household size and number of family members, not counting parents, who will be attending college during the academic year.
        • If you are an undocumented student and resident of Washington state, you may be eligible for the Washington State Need Grant. To apply, complete the Washington Application for State Financial Aid at
        • In many cases, you must be admitted to the school before you will receive an offer of financial aid. Some schools may also require an additional financial aid application for their own financial aid programs. Check with the school, as this requirement may change from year to year. See the WFAA website for FAFSA deadlines at WA colleges. 

    1. My biological parents are divorced/separated. Which parent's information should be on my FAFSA? Information should be given for the parent(s) you lived with the most in the last 12 months. If you didn't live with either parent or lived with each an equal amount of time, information should be provided by the parent who provided you the greater amount of your financial support during the last 12 months. If this parent has remarried, financial information for the step-parent must also be provided on the FAFSA. Please note: if parents are divorced, but continue to live together, information for both parents must be reported.

    1. 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.

    1. I've already moved out of my parent's home and support myself. Do they still need to provide their information on the FAFSA? Generally, yes. If you are under the age of 24 (per the FAFSA), are unmarried, not supporting dependent children of your own, not a veteran or active duty military, not a foster youth or a ward of the court, you are considered dependent for financial aid purpose and parents must provide their information on your FAFSA. You can be considered an independent student if you can document being an unaccompanied or homeless youth. If you or your parent(s) are in a situation which makes it impossible for your parents to provide their information, contact the school's financial aid office for assistance.

    1. 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, assigned a legal guardian other than parents, 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. Do tax returns need to be completed to file the FAFSA? Since the FAFSA requests tax information that is two years prior to the academic year of the FAFSA you are filing, most likely the tax return will have already been filed. We recommend that you complete the FAFSA with accurate tax information by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. In a few simple steps, most students and parents who filed a tax return can view and transfer their tax information directly into their FAFSA. (An example of which tax years information is reported on the FAFSA: 2017-2018 FAFSA requests 2015 tax information, 2018-2019 FAFSA requests 2016 tax information, 2019-2020 FAFSA requests 2017 tax information and so on.)

    1. The FAFSA generated an EFC number. What is this? The EFC is the Expected Family Contribution, which is the dollar amount that the federal government calculates your family can contribute toward your college costs next year, based on a federal methodology formula, which uses all the information you provided on the FAFSA.

    1. How is this EFC used? This EFC number is subtracted from the cost of attendance at the school you attend to determine your eligibility for need-based financial aid. Therefore, your eligibility for aid will be different from school to school, based on the differing cost at each school. In a nutshell:

      Need/Eligibility = Cost of attendance - EFC.

    1. The FAFSA generated EFC was based on income from two years ago. What should I do if my financial situation has worsened or I have an unusual situation? Contact the financial aid office at the schools you wish to attend. Financial aid administrators can opt to calculate a new EFC, based on supplemental information they may ask you to provide about your situation.

    1. 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.

    1. 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 current years income is much lower than the 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 student's 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.

    1. 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 parents' income increases. Student's earnings must exceed the IRS’ income requirements for single dependents before it increases the EFC. 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)

    1. What is Cost of Attendance? Cost of attendance includes the cost of tuition and fees, living expenses, books and school supplies, and personal and transportation expenses. The cost of attendance is the maximum amount of financial aid that a student can be awarded during an academic year. This means your eligibility for need-based assistance may be more at the higher cost private or out-of-state schools, and potentially less at your local community college. Cost of attendance will vary depending upon the type of school and the financial aid programs that they offer.
      • Public, two year technical or community colleges: 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. Some community colleges now offer four year bachelor degree programs.
      • Public, four year universities: 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: Almost all of these schools participate in federal and state financial aid programs, as well as offering substantial 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.

    1. How much financial aid can I receive? This amount varies, based on the cost of attendance at each school, the programs available and the amount of funds available at each school and when you apply. For instance, if your EFC is $1500, your financial aid eligibility at the lower cost community colleges would be about $16,606 ($18,106 cost of attendance minus $1500 EFC = $$16,606), while you could receive an aid offer of $44,279 at a private university ($45,779 cost of attendance minus $1500 EFC = $44,279). However, the actual dollar amount of your award could be impacted by the amount of funding available at a particular school, and the timeliness of your application at one school versus another. For maximum consideration of aid, apply early.

    1. When will I receive the offer for financial aid? This may vary greatly from school to school. However, if you applied by the school's application deadline for Fall term, you can expect to receive an offer of financial aid from the private colleges and universities first, with aid offers from the four year public universities following shortly, and community colleges after that. Contact the school if your enrollment will begin during a term other than Fall.

    1. Do I need to reapply for financial aid each year? Yes, you must complete a new FAFSA each year (available starting in October) for the next academic year. Your eligibility for aid could change if your FAFSA information changes from your previous year's information.

    1. 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
      • 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.
      • 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.

    1. 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, If you plan to major in a STEM program (science, math, engineering, technology, or the health professions, apply for the Washington Opportunity Scholarships at:

    1. 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.

    1. How does work study work? Work study is an opportunity to work part-time during the school year to help pay for "indirect" costs associated with attending school, such personal and transportation expenses, or off-campus living expenses. Jobs can be found on or off campus and the some schools provide an opportunity for full time summer employment through the State Work Study program. Finding a job will differ from school to school and in most cases, an offer of work study is not a guarantee that you will have a job.

    1. 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 instate tuition and WA state aid programs (as long as you don't do anything to establish residency in another state).

  1. Is it worthwhile to apply for financial aid if my parents have a high income? Having a large family or several family members in college may still make you eligible for need-based aid despite a large income. Some schools may include "need" to rank finalist for merit based aid, so you could be eliminated from consideration without having filed a FAFSA. If parents have the ability and willingness to pay for college costs out-of-pocket without financial hardship, filing the FAFSA is not necessary.