Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding College Costs
How do I estimate the full cost of college?
What is Cost of Attendance (COA)?
How much of what I earn should be put toward college?
How much should I have saved?
What if I don’t have enough money saved to pay for school?
Fundamentals of Financial Aid
What is the FAFSA?
Where do I get a FAFSA?
You can fill out the FAFSA online at fafsa.gov. If you need a printed FAFSA form, you can download a FAFSA PDF or order a print-out of the FAFSA PDF. Additionally, you can ask the financial aid office at your college or university if you can file it there.
What type of information do I need to complete the FAFSA?
You will need a number of documents, including the following:
- Your Social Security number (SSN) and your parents' SSNs
- Your driver's license number
- Federal tax information/tax returns (IRS/W-2) for you and your parents for two years prior to the academic year
- Records of untaxed income, such as Social Security benefits, welfare benefits (e.g., TANF) and veterans benefits, for yourself and your parents
- Bank statements and information on savings, investments and business/farm assets for yourself and your parents
What is a SAR and how do I get one?
What is EFC?
Are there factors that will lower a student's EFC?
Some of these factors include:
- Additional family members supported by the head of household, e.g., additional brothers and sisters or grandparents living at home
- Additional siblings in college
- Lower income (especially student income)
- Fewer assets (especially student assets)
What is an award letter?
All the schools you applied to will send you a financial aid award notification sometime between December and March. Make sure to respond to your award notification ASAP so you don’t miss any aid deadlines. This notification may include information such as the following:
- Estimated Cost of Attendance
- Expected Family Contribution
- Need (which is defined as the difference between your total expenses and the amount of money your family is expected to contribute)
- Aid you're awarded from that school to help fill that need
What is a grant and how do I get one?
Federal grants are a type of aid that is awarded by the federal government. Grants for college students do not have to be repaid. Grants are based upon financial need, as calculated by the federal aid program. The first step is to complete the FAFSA. A school grant is awarded directly from your chosen school. To learn more about your school's grants, visit their Web site or financial aid office.
What is a Direct Loan and how do I get one?
A Direct Loan is a low-cost student loan offered to eligible students enrolled in American institutions of higher education and is sponsored by the federal government. See the "Direct Loans" section for more details.
What is a PLUS Loan and how do I get one?
A Federal PLUS Loan (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students) is designed specifically to help parents fill the gap between their child's current financial aid and the rising cost of tuition. PLUS loans are sponsored by the federal government. See the "PLUS Loans" section for more details.
What is a Private Loan and how do I get one?
Tuition and fees are rising every year, but federal loan limits are not. To help you manage the remaining cost of your education, lenders have worked with your school to offer an option for financing: private loans, also known as school-certified private loans or alternative student loans. The money borrowed through a private student loan, which is subject to credit approval by the lender, can be used for tuition, room and board, books and supplies, a computer, studying abroad and more. See the "Private Loans" section for more details.
How do Direct Loan interest rates work?
Rates for each school year are capped on July 1 by the government. Your rate depends on the type of Direct Loan and when your loan funds are disbursed. View Direct loan interest rates.
What's the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized?
A subsidized Direct Loan is a need-based loan; the government pays the interest on these loans when you're in school so that you're not incurring interest. An unsubsidized Direct Loan is not need-based; if you choose not to pay interest until after you graduate, your interest builds up while you're in school and will be capitalized (added to principal).
Why will I need additional loans if I have a Direct loan?
The maximum loan amount you can get with a Direct loan your first year is $5,500. If your school determines your need to be higher than the limits on a Direct Loan, they might offer an additional type of loan, like a PLUS Loan.
How much can I borrow with a PLUS Loan?
With a PLUS loan, parents may borrow up to the full cost of their child's education minus other aid received. For example, assume your tuition bill for a year at your chosen school is $15,500 and you were awarded $5,500 for a Direct Loan your first year.
|COA||$15,500||In this example, if your parents applied for a PLUS|
|- Other Aid||- 5,500||loan, they might be approved for up to $10,000.|
How do I know if the interest is tax-deductible?
Your parents should consult their tax advisor.
What is a private loan?
Tuition and fees are rising every year, but the federal loan limits are not. To help you manage the remaining cost of college, lenders work with your school to offer an option for financing - private loans, also known as private student loans, school-certified private loans or alternative student loans. Private loans are subject to credit approval and must be repaid based on the terms and condition of the loan note you sign when you take out the loan.
How are rates determined?
Rates are determined based on creditworthiness of the borrower and the co-signer, requirements vary by lender. Creditworthiness is often defined as meeting the following financial and credit standards:
• Two years of employment history
• Proof of current income (if self-employed, applicant must have been in business for two years)
• Two years of U.S. residency
• Two years of satisfactory credit history
Should I apply with a co-signer?
Working with Your Lender
What are automatic payments and how does this affect my rate?
Automatic payments are loan payments that are automatically deducted from your checking or savings account. It's easy to set up with your lender or loan servicer. You can usually pick which day of the month you want the funds taken out. What's great about automatic payments is you don't have to worry about sending a check each month. Most lenders offer an incentive for borrowers who participate in automatic payment programs. The PNC Solution Loan™ offers a 0.50% interest rate discount for automatic payments, which can result in savings over the life of the loan.
What is deferment?
A student loan deferment allows you to temporarily postpone your monthly payments under certain circumstances, such as the following:
- Enrollment in school at least half time
- Economic hardship
- Military deployment
Please note interest may continue to accrue during periods of deferment. Certain restrictions and conditions may apply. Contain your lender or servicer to discuss deferment options.
What is an extended repayment plan?
If you have more than $30,000 in outstanding federal Direct and/or PLUS loans with one or more lenders, and all of your loans were established after Oct. 7, 1998, you may be eligible for an extended repayment plan. With an extended repayment plan, you may:
- Lower your monthly payment by up to 40%
- Maintain borrower incentives such as interest rate reductions and principal rebates
- Maintain full deferment eligibility
- Pay no fees and incur no credit check
Anytime you extend your repayment term, you will increase the overall interest amount you pay over the life of the loan. You may apply for an extended repayment plan during your grace periods, once your loans have entered repayment, or during periods of deferment or forbearance. Just contact your lender or loan servicer and request the extended repayment plan available for federal Direct and/or PLUS loans (private loans are not eligible). Make sure to contact all of your lenders if you have loans with more multiple lenders.
Recipes for Cutting Expenses at School
Should I keep my car on campus?
Colleges have different rules for keeping cars on campus. Many schools do not allow freshmen to keep cars on campus, but if they do, you might have to park it far away and will usually be charged a parking fee for each semester. To find out if your school allows cars on campus and the parking rates, look on their Web site. And when you're thinking about the bottom line, make sure to think about gas, insurance, maintenance and parking fees. Other students from your area might be heading home for the same breaks - so you might be able to catch a ride with a friend.
Do I need to take a computer to school?
It's almost impossible to get through college without a computer. While most colleges provide computer labs on campus, some colleges give a laptop to each incoming student, and others may offer discounts on new computers. Ask your school if they offer a wi-fi wireless network for their students. Free software may also available through your school.
Are there dorm-friendly recipes that can stretch my food budget?
If you're staying in the dorms, find out if there's a kitchen on your floor and don't be afraid to use it. Or it might be a good idea for you or your roommate to bring a microwave to school. Think beyond mac & cheese and ramen noodles!
- Nacho Heaven: Assemble a plate of your favorite chips and add canned beans, zesty salsa and shredded cheese. Microwave for 2-3 minutes until cheese is melted.
- Easy Quesadillas: Layer one oversized tortilla with a handful of cheese, pre-diced peppers and canned corn. Cover with 2nd tortilla and microwave for 60 seconds. Serve with salsa.
- Pita Pizza: Top one whole pita pocket with marinara sauce, some bagged veggies and cheese. Microwave for 60-75 seconds. Enjoy with ranch dressing.
- Apple Crumble: Combine apple pie filling, a handful of granola and a crumbled cupcake in a small bowl. Microwave for 60 seconds and enjoy with some vanilla ice cream or yogurt
- Peanut Butter Fudge: Microwave 12 oz. of semisweet chocolate and 12 oz. of peanut butter on high for 3 minutes. Add enough milk to mixture to make it pourable and combine thoroughly; pour into 8 x 8 baking pan and chill overnight.
How could a "warehouse club" save me money?
Warehouse clubs such as Sam's Club and Costco sell a wide variety of merchandise in which customers pay annual membership fees in order to shop. Clubs are able to keep prices low due to their no-frills format. Customers are required to buy large, wholesale quantities of the store's products, which make these clubs attractive to bargain hunters. Make sure you know how much the membership fees are before you join. If you get a group of students to go in with you, you can split up the large quantity items and defray the cost of the membership.
How can putting school off for a year help me?
It's a tough decision to make, but a year off does give you more time to prepare financially for school. If you work a full-time job during that year and put most of your paychecks in savings, you could have a significant chunk of cash to put toward your total cost of degree (TCD). You can also search for more scholarships, too. The pros and cons of delaying entry into school should be considered when thinking about this option.
How can I determine what I will make in the future?
Your future salary depends on your career and where you live. Check out the Salary Wizard on Salary.com to find average U.S. salaries for your chosen career.
Important Legal Disclosures and Information
You are encouraged to explore all scholarship, grant and federal borrowing options before applying for a private loan.
PNC does not provide accounting, tax or legal advice.