College Terms Parents and Students Should Know



Phrases to help Hudson Valley families through the college process

Some of these terms may seem obvious, but are good to know before you start the process -- they do get used often in the process and have definitive definitions. 

Before you get started, you might want to check out -- AND PRINT -- our Hudson Valley Colleges Amenities Chart.


FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the form to fill out to share your financial information with colleges, so they can determine how much you can afford to pay.  You may file for the FAFSA on January 1st of the year you plan to enroll in college.

EFC: "Expected Family Contribution" -- this is the amount of money that you, and your family, are expectec to spend on your college education, annually, as calculated by the federal methodology used in the FAFSA.

COA: "Cost of Attendance" -- every college and university calculates its own cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, housing, food, books, personal supplies, and transportation.

Net Price Calculator: As of October 2011, all colleges and universities are required to display a Net Price Calculator (NPC) on their websites. The calculator must provide cost of attendance and grant and scholarship aid, broken down by EFC range, housing type, and tuition.


(Mount Saint Mary College)

FAFSA4caster:  This is a quick (30 minute or so) pretend FAFSA that you can use online at FAFSA4CASTER.ed.gov.  It provides an idea of what your EFC will be, in the months and even years leading up to the January of your senior year of high school.

CSS Profile: The FAFSA is free, but the PROFILE is not. It costs $25 for the first college, and $16 for each subsequent college.  It's often required from students by colleges that want to determine how they hand out non-federal  money to studetns, and is a much more detailed form than the FAFSA.  It's tied to the consumer price index, which the FAFSA is not.  The CSS PROFILE is administered by a private nonprofit, the College Board.

Methodology: This is the FAFSA system for taking the financial aid data from everyone who wants to apply for financial aid, and using a standardized system -- a methodology -- to determine how much discretionary income they have for education.

Institution: An institution can be a community college, a private college, a university, or a trade school.  They're all defined by the Department of Education as "higher education institutions."

Dependents: Anyone who depends on your parents, including you.  On the FAFSA form, count yourself as a dependent.

Dependency Status: A worksheet to determine whether or not your parents can legally claim you as a dependent.

SAR: "Student Aid Report" -- A document (paper or electronic) that lists the information you've reported on the FAFSA.

PIN: "Personal identification number" -- Needed to sign in to FAFSA online.  Apply at pin.ed.gov.



(Marist College)

Student Aid Eligibility: The period of time for which you are eligible for student aid, loans, or grants from the federal government.

Loan: Any amount of money you have to borrow, then repay.

Term: The amount of time you have to repay a loan.

Parent: Your biological, adopted, or step-parents are: but grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older siblings, uncles, or aunts are NOT, unless they have legally adopted you.

School code: The number of the school for each college or university that you want to receive your FAFSA information.  Search for it on the FAFSA website at fafsa.ed.gov.

DRN: "Data Release Number" -- The four digit number that will be assigned to your individual FAFSA.  It gives you acces to all of your FAFSA information, so keep it handy.

Signature Page: If you don't use a PIN to sigbn your FAFSA electronically, you (and your parents, if you're a dependent) will have to physically sign, with pen and ink, a signature page and send it off in the mail.

Confirmation Number: A confirmation number from FAFSA.

Database Mismatches, or "Flags": When you complete the FAFSA, you have to follow the directions to the letter, and complete all the information carefully and correctly.  For example, if you use your given name in the FAFSA application, you need to use that name throughout, or it will be considered a "database mismatch."

Verification: As any good moneylender does, the federal government reserves the right to verify, or double check the truthfulness of the information you've put in the FAFSA. So don't lie.

FAA: The Financial Aid Administrator at your college of choice.

Supplemental or Institutional Application: A form designed by individual colleges to collect additional financial information. Not all schools require this.

FAFSA Transaction: Every time you file a FAFSA, or make corrections to your existing FAFSA, it's referred to as a "transaction."

Taken from The Financial Aid Handbook by Carol Stack and Ruth Vedvik, two former college admission staffers.