Student Financial Aid - Important Terms
The period of time schools use to measure a quantity of study. For example, some school's split their year into a fall and spring semester, where a student must complete 24 semester hours. Academic years are different at every school, and can also vary by programs within a school.
Interest is added to the principal amount of your loan and additional interest is based upon the higher amount.
You must be one of the following to receive federal student aid:
- U.S. citizen
- U.S. national (includes natives of American Samoa or Swain's Island)
- U.S. permanent resident who has an I-151, I-551, or I-551C (Alien Registration Receipt Card)
If you're not in one of these categories, you must have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) showing one of the following designations:
- "Asylum Granted"
- "Indefinite Parole" and/or "Humanitarian Parole"
- "Cuban-Haitian Entrant, Status Pending"
- "Conditional Entrant" (valid only if issued before April 1, 1980)
If you only have a Notice of Approval to Apply for Permanent Residence (I-171 or I-464), you are not eligible for federal student aid.
If you're in the United States only on an F1 or F2 student visa, or only a J1 or J2 exchange visitor visa, you are not eligible for federal student aid. Also, persons with G series visas (pertaining to international organizations) are not eligible for federal student aid.
NOTE: Citizens and eligible non-citizens can also receive loans from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and William D. Ford Direct Loan (Direct Loan) programs at participating foreign schools.
Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau are only eligible for Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs), or Federal Work-Study. If this pertains to you, check with your financial aid administrators for more information.
Cost of Attendance (COA):
The total amount it will cost a student to go to school, expressed as a yearly figure, determined using rules established by U.S. Congress. The COA includes tuition and fees, room and board (or a housing and food allowance for off-campus students), allowances for books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and, if applicable, dependent care, costs related to a disability, and miscellaneous expenses. Also included are reasonable costs for eligible study-abroad programs. An allowance (determined by the school) is included for reasonable costs connected with a student's employment as part of a cooperative education program. For students attending less than half-time, the COA includes only tuition and fees and an allowance for books, supplies, transportation, and dependent-care expenses. Talk to the financial aid administrator at your school for unusual expenses that affect your cost of attendance.
Default is the failure to repay student loans according to the terms you agreed to. Default also results from failure to submit requests for deferment or cancellation on time. The consequences of default are severe.
A course of study that leads to a degree or certificate and meets requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education. To get federal financial aid, you must be enrolled in an eligible program, with two exceptions:
- If a school requires you to take certain coursework to qualify for admission into one of its eligible programs, you can get a Direct Loan or a FFEL Program Loan (or your parents can get a PLUS Loan) for up to 12 consecutive months while you're completing that coursework. You must be enrolled at least half-time, and you must meet the usual student aid eligibility requirements.
- If you're enrolled at least half-time in a program to obtain a professional credential or certification required by a state for employment as an elementary or secondary school teacher, you can get a Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Work-Study, a Direct or FFEL Stafford Loan, (or your parents can get a PLUS Loan) while you're enrolled in that program.
Financial Aid Package:
The total amount of financial aid, both federal and non-federal that students receive.
General Education Development (GED) Certificate:
A certificate that proves a student has passed an approved high school equivalency test. Students who don't have a high school diploma but have a GED still qualify for federal student aid. A school that admits students without a high school diploma must have a GED program available to students and must inform them about the program.
Non-profit organizations that administer the FFEL Program for your school. The federal government sets loan limits and interest rates, but each guaranty agency is free to set its own additional limitations, within federal guidelines. This agency is the best source of information on FFEL Program Loans. To find out the name, address, and telephone number of the agency in your state, visit www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/guaranty.html.
You can also obtain the name, address, and telephone number of your state's guaranty agency, as well as information about borrowing, by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
For schools that measure progress by credit hours per semester, trimester, or quarter, half-time enrollment is at least six semester or quarter hours per term. For schools measuring progress only by credit hours, half-time enrollment is at least 12 semester hours or 18 quarter hours per year. At schools measuring progress by clock hours, half-time enrollment is at least 12 hours per week. Note that schools can set higher minimums. You must be attending school at least half-time to be eligible for Direct or FFEL Program loans. Half-time enrollment is not required for the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Work-Study, and Federal Perkins Loan.
The binding legal document you sign when you get a student loan. It lists the conditions for borrowing and the terms of agreement for repayment. This includes information about your interest rate, deferment, and cancellation provisions. Read through the document carefully and keep a copy.
A student enrolled in an institution to obtain a certificate or degree. To receive aid from the programs discussed, you must be a regular student. There are exceptions to this requirement for some programs. See the definition of eligible program.
Satisfactory Academic Progress:
To be eligible for federal student aid, you must maintain satisfactory academic progress toward a degree or certificate. You must meet your school's written standard of satisfactory progress. Check with your school for their standards. If you're enrolled in a program that's longer than two years, the definition of satisfactory progress is: Students must have a C average by the end of their second academic year of study or have an academic standing consistent with the school's graduation requirements. Students must continue to maintain satisfactory academic progress for the rest of their course of study.
Selective Service Registration:
Males born on or after January 1st, 1960 who are at least 18 years old, citizens or eligible non-citizens, and are not currently in active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces are required, by law, to register for Selective Service to be eligible for federal aid. Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, or Palau are exempt from registering.
A subsidized loan is a need-based award. You will not be charged interest before you begin repayment or during authorized periods of deferment. The federal government "subsidizes" the interest during these periods.
Last Reviewed: July 2017
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