Financial Aid Information

Paying For College in 5 Steps

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Step 1


Complete the FAFSA and apply for federal and state financial aid. You can apply for both types without knowing which school you will attend. That being said, you do need to supply a list of schools that you would like to have receive your information.

You can submit your forms starting as early as October 1st. However, you must complete the process by June 30th. Many state grants have earlier deadlines, so make sure you stay organized. Here is a great resource for deadlines.

Once you submit the FAFSA, the possible aid includes Pell Grants, Work-Study, Perkins Loans Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and the federal Stafford loan programs. New York State financial aid consists of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), Aid for Part-Time Study (APTS), scholarships, and other special awards. Financial aid from colleges can be institutional grants, scholarships, work programs, and loans. Here is a great FASFA resource with a glossary of financial aid terms, a step by step guide, and answers to common questions.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Completing the application is the first step you'll take toward getting the money you need to pay for college. By submitting the FAFSA you will learn what federal, state, and college-sponsored financial aid you're eligible for.

What kinds of financial aid are available through the FAFSA?

Federal aid includes Pell Grants, Work-Study, Perkins Loans, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and the federal Stafford loan programs. New York State financial aid consists of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), Aid for Part-Time Study (APTS), scholarships, and other special awards. Financial aid from colleges can be institutional grants, scholarships, work programs, and loans.

How do I complete the FAFSA?

It's fast and easy to do online! Visit the FAFSA website to start the process. Click the "Complete the FAFSA" hot button, and follow these steps:

  1. You and your parents must get a federal student aid Personal Identification Number (PIN). You'll get your secure PIN from the U.S. Department of Education by email (or mail, if you prefer, in about a week). If you don't get your PIN ahead of time, you can get it when you begin the FAFSA online. You use the PIN to "sign" your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) electronically.
  2. Complete and submit the FAFSA. A tutorial on the Web site shows you how. Much of the financial information required on the FAFSA comes from your federal tax forms - yours and your parents' - so make sure you have them with you. If you haven't completed your taxes, you can estimate and, if necessary, file a corrected FAFSA later.

You will need to complete a new FAFSA every year to receive financial aid. If you completed a FAFSA in the previous year, you'll receive a notice to go to your renewal FAFSA.

Identify Yourself

  • Use your legal name as it appears on your Social Security card. Nicknames or aliases will cause a processing delay.
  • Read the questions carefully. The words "you" and "your" on the FAFSA always refer to the student, not the parents.
  • To be considered a veteran, you must have served on active duty and been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions. If your service was only for training purposes (e.g. National Guard or Reserves, or ROTC), you are not considered a veteran for your federal financial aid application.
  • Remember to count yourself, the student, as one of the people in your household who will be college students during the award year

Your Parents and the FAFSA

  • If your parents are divorced or separated, the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months is the parent responsible for filling out the FAFSA. This is not necessarily the parent who has legal custody.
  • If the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA has remarried, the new spouse must report their income and assets on the FAFSA. Prenuptial agreements have no bearing on this requirement.

Your Dependents

  • A legal dependent is a person for whom you provide and will continue to provide more than half of their support. Support includes money, gifts, loans, housing, food, clothing, automobile, medical and dental care and payment of college costs. If you have a child who is supported by your parents or someone else, you should answer "no" to the question that asks about legal dependents other than a spouse.
  • If you have an unborn child who will be born before or during the award year (July 1 through June 30) and will be your legal dependent, that child should be counted as a member of the household.

Given the Option

  • In the question that asks about your interest in different types of aid (e.g. work-study and student loans), answer "yes" to each question. Answering "yes" does not obligate you to accept a loan or work-study position, nor does it guarantee you'll be offered either. Answering "no" to these questions will not get you more grant aid.
  • Even if you qualify for the simplified needs test, you should still complete the asset information section of the FAFSA. Some states and schools use this information for computing their own financial aid awards.
  • By submitting the FAFSA, you give permission to release your information to the state aid agency. You cannot apply for financial aid without releasing this information.

What Counts as Income?

  • The Earned Income Credit is considered "untaxed income" on the FAFSA. Other types of untaxed income include retirement plan contributions made during the year and military food and housing allowances.
  • Taxable earnings from work-study jobs as well as any grant or scholarship monies that were reported on your income tax return are counted.
  • Prepaid tuition plans are not reported as assets on the FAFSA.

Before You Send Your FAFSA

  • Whether filing online or off, sign the form (you'll use your PIN online) and get all the other required signatures. If you don't sign the form, you will receive an SAR, but you will not receive aid.
  • Do not include anything with the form when you mail it; any enclosures will be destroyed. Likewise, do not write comments or notes in the margins of the form. If there are unusual family financial circumstances, you should contact the school's financial aid administrator to ask for a professional judgment review.
  • Make a copy of the form before mailing it. You can print out your online FAFSA before you submit the application.
  • Submit the form on time.

Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) Grant

How do I apply for a New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grant?

If you indicate on your FAFSA that you are interested in a college in New York, you will be directed to the TAP application at the completion of your FAFSA. TAP is described in more detail below.

What Happens Next?

  • You’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR) summarizing your FAFSA and including your Estimated Family Contribution. Review it and make any corrections.
  • You’ll get an award letter from your college stating the aid you can expect if you attend that school. Consider the options outlined in the letter including grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs.
  • Tell the financial aid office that you accept or reject all or part of the financial aid package. Complete any other forms required by the school.
  • If you need a federal loan, follow the instructions in your college award letter. Visit for information and application procedures.

Apply for aid each year you're in College

  • Never assume that because you received aid in one academic year you'll automatically get it again the next year. Review each program's application procedures carefully and reapply each year when necessary.
  • If you filled out a FAFSA the year before, you can probably use the shorter Renewal FAFSA and TAP application.

TAP (Tuition Assistance Program)

To be eligible for TAP you must:

  • Be a United States citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Be a legal resident of New York State
  • Study at an approved post-secondary institution in New York State (NYS)
  • Have graduated from high school in the United States, earned a GED, or passed a federally approved "Ability to Benefit" test as defined by the Commissioner of the State Education Department
  • Be enrolled as a full-time student taking 12 or more credits (applicable toward your degree program) per semester
  • Be matriculated in an approved program of study and be in good academic standing
  • Have declared a major no later than within 30 days from end of the add/drop period:
    • in the first term of your sophomore year in an approved two-year program; or
    • in the first term of your junior year in an approved four-year program
  • Meet good academic standing requirements
  • Be charged at least $200 tuition per year
  • Not be in default on any State or federal student loan or on any repayment of state awards.
  • Meet income eligibility limitations

The award amount is determined by:
· Academic year in which first payment of TAP or any state award is received
· Type of postsecondary institution and the tuition charge
· Combined family NYS taxable income, Federal, State or local pension income and private pension and annuity income, if applicable.
· Financial status (dependent or independent)
· Other family members enrolled in college

Federal Pell Grant

A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Pell Grants are awarded usually only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or a professional degree. (In some cases, however, a student enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program might receive a Pell Grant.) Pell Grants are considered a foundation of federal financial aid, to which aid from other federal and nonfederal sources might be added.

How much can I get?

There are limits on the maximum amount you are eligible to receive each academic year and in total (aggregate Pell Grant limit). The maximum Pell Grant award amounts for the 2019-20 award year (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020) is $6,095. You may receive less than the maximum award depending not only on your financial need, but also on your costs to attend school, your status as a full-time or part-time student, and your plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

Any Pell Grant eligible student whose parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept.11, 2001 will receive the maximum annual award. You must be under 24 years old or enrolled at least part-time in college at the time of your parent's or guardian's death.

Beginning with the 2012-2013 award year, you can only receive a Pell Grant for up to a maximum of 12 semesters or the equivalent.

If I am eligible, how will I get the Pell Grant money?

Your school can apply Pell Grant funds to your school costs, pay you directly (usually by check), or combine these methods. The school must tell you in writing how much your award will be and how and when you'll be paid. Schools must disburse funds at least once per term (semester, trimester, or quarter). Schools that do not use semesters, trimesters, or quarters must disburse funds at least twice per academic year.

Step 2

Collect information from the admissions and financial aid offices of the colleges you are interested in attending. This is your main point of contact at the school. The financial aid office can answer questions pertaining to applying for aid, both through the government and the school.

Step 3

Research scholarships. These are offered by individual schools as well as third party organizations. Before taking on any debt, such as with a student loan, you should consider all free money options.

Step 4

Wait to receive information on whether or not you qualify for financial aid from the federal government, your state government, or both. This is based on your family’s expected family contribution.

Once your FAFSA is filed, you will receive a Student Aid Report which can be submitted to schools you are considering attending. From there, the school will put together an award package detailing the aid that you qualify for.

Step 5

Free money is great, but you should not expect it. If you do, this is a great way to pay for some or all of your college education. On the other hand, you may find that you need to supplement free money with loans.

Parents and students are both in a position to apply for student loans. To start, your child should apply for a PLUS and/or Stafford Loan – these are offered through the Federal Direct Student Loan Program.

Consider private student loans if you are unable to get enough money through the federal program. Private loans allow you to borrow any money necessary to fill the gap between what you are receiving from the school and government and what is actually owed for the school year.

Although these five steps are relatively easy to follow, you don’t get to escape the process for too long. Year after year, you must determine how you and your child are going to pay for tuition, room and board, and all other fees. As your situation changes, so will your approach to the financial aid process.

Get Your FSA ID Ahead of Completing the FAFSA

  • FSA IDs are created at
  • Each student and one parent need FSA IDs to electronically sign and submit the FAFSA. Students taking federal student loans will also need their FSA ID to sign for any federal student loans they decide to take.
  • Although students and parents can get an FSA ID while filling out the FAFSA, tell them that getting it ahead of time will make the entire process much smoother.
  • Students and parents must create their own FSA IDs with their own personal information. Each FSA ID is for the exclusive use of that individual and cannot be shared.
  • An FSA ID cannot be created by any individual on behalf of someone else, including a family member.
  • The student and parent's information at the Social Security Administration (SSA) must be correct or corrected before getting an FSA ID. Visit SSA at to learn how to correct any errors.
  • Undocumented and other eligible students can visit to determine if they are eligible to apply for NYS grant and scholarship programs, including the Tuition Assistance Program, Excelsior Scholarship, and Enhanced Tuition Awards.
  • Eligible students can complete the NYS DREAM application at any time.
  • Students determined eligible to apply under the NYS DREAM Act need to apply separately for each grant and/or scholarship program they are interested in receiving aid for. Eligibility criteria varies depending on the program.
  • HESC offers a full calendar of virtual events to help students and their families navigate the financial aid process.
  • Students and families needing support can view and register for our events, many of which include one-on-one support at
  • Topics range from financial aid basics for seniors in high school and their parents, to how to get your FSA ID, to workshops where one-on-one assistance is provided to complete the FAFSA and TAP applications.

Helpful Resources