Financial Aid FAQ’s
There are a number of Federal, State, and Institutional programs that can help you pay for some or all of your educational expenses. All students applying for financial aid must complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Complete your FAFSA here.
General Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the FAFSA?
To apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work-study, and loans, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school.
In addition, many states and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid, and some private financial aid providers may use your FAFSA information to determine whether you qualify for their aid.
Am I eligible to receive financial aid?
To be eligible to receive federal student aid, you must:
Be a citizen or eligible noncitizen of the United States.
Have a valid Social Security Number.
Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or have completed homeschooling.
Be enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan.
Register (or already be registered) with the Selective Service System, if you are a male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. (Students from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau are exempt from registering; see www.sss.gov for more information.)
Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans). If you have such a conviction, you must complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you are eligible for aid or partially eligible for aid.
Many types of federal student aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant or subsidized loans where the government pays the interest while you are in college, also require you to have financial need. Additionally, once you have a bachelor’s degree or a first professional degree, you are not eligible for Pell or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).
Other requirements may apply. Contact the financial aid office at your college for more information.
What types of aid are available?
The U.S. Department of Education awards about $150 billion every year to help millions of students pay for college. This federal student aid is awarded in the form of grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans.
Grants are typically awarded on the basis of need and generally do not have to be repaid. There are four types of federal student aid.
- Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. (In some cases, students enrolled in postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs may receive Federal Pell Grants.) The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2023-24 award year is $5,815; however, the actual award depends on the student’s financial need, the college’s cost of attendance, the student’s enrollment status, and the length of the academic year in which the student is enrolled. Students can receive the Federal Pell Grant for up to the equivalent of 12 semesters.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The amount of the award is determined by the college’s financial aid office and depends on the student’s financial need and the availability of funds at the college.
- The Federal Work-Study Program enables students to earn money during the school year while also gaining valuable work experience, typically in part-time, career-related jobs.
- The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program enables students and parents to borrow money at low-interest rates directly from the federal government. The Direct Loan Program includes Direct Stafford Loans, which are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and Direct PLUS Loans, which are available to parents of dependent students and to graduate and professional degree students. A Direct Stafford Loan might be subsidized or unsubsidized. Direct PLUS Loans are always unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are based on financial need and are available only to undergraduate students. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans while the borrower is in college and during deferment. Unsubsidized loans are based on the student's education costs and other aid received. The borrower must pay all accrued interest on unsubsidized loans.
Other forms of financial aid that might be available to students include:
State government aid. Residents of the State of Illinois may qualify to receive funds from the Illinois Monetary Assistance Program (IL-MAP). In order to be considered for these funds, your annual FAFSA must be completed by November 15 of each calendar year. FAFSAs completed after this time frame may be suspended due to a lack of funding for the program.
- Scholarships. Some states, local governments, colleges, community organizations, private employers, and other organizations award scholarships based on academic ability or other factors.
- Aid for the military. For more information, you can go here.
How much financial aid am I eligible to receive?
The financial aid office at your college will determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Your eligibility for most federal student aid depends on a variety of factors, including your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your year in college, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the college you will be attending.
Note: Your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. Think of the EFC as an index number used by your college to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
How do I apply for aid?
To apply for federal student aid, you must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
By completing and submitting a FAFSA, you will automatically be considered for federal student aid. In addition, your state and college may use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for nonfederal aid.
Completing the FAFSA is an easy process, and it’s completely free.
For help with filling out the FAFSA, you can go here.
Where do I find more information about federal student aid?
You can find more information about federal student aid through the following sources:
- Visit StudentAid.gov.
- Get updates and information from the Federal Student Aid Facebook page and @FAFSA Twitter feed.
- Visit the Federal Student Aid YouTube page.
- Download the free publication, Funding Your Education: The Guide to Federal Student Aid here.
- Visit the Generations College’s financial aid office.
Why should I fill out the FAFSA?
Completing and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the single most important thing you can do to get assistance paying for college.
The U.S. Department of Education uses the FAFSA to determine students’ eligibility for federal student aid. Every year, the federal government awards about $150 billion in the form of grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans to help millions of students pay for college.
Many state governments and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid.
Unfortunately, some students feel like they shouldn’t bother filling out a FAFSA because of some common myths. These include:
- “I (or my parents) make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.”
- “Only students with good grades get financial aid.”
- “I’m too old to get financial aid.”
- “The form is too hard to fill out.”
However, these concerns are usually unfounded. For more information, download “Myths About Financial Aid”.
What are the deadlines for filling out the FAFSA?
Needs to be corrected to “To be considered for federal student aid for the 2023-2024 award year, you can complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between January 1, 2023 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2024. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Time, September 17, 2023.
However, many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid.
Because of the variation in state and college deadlines, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1 of each calendar year to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.
One thing to consider, however, is that the FAFSA asks for your tax return information for the current year. Often, this information might not be available until the end of January, at the earliest. Keeping this in mind, you can complete your FAFSA using estimates derived from the previous year’s tax returns and other documentation. (Note: If you do this, you will need to return later and correct any discrepancies between the estimated values and the current year’s tax returns.)
Will I need to fill out the FAFSA each year?
Yes. Because eligibility for federal student aid does not carry over from one award year to the next, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each calendar year in which you are or plan to be a student.
Your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college.