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Financial Aid FAQs

college life

Expert Answers to 11 Common Financial Aid Questions 

The process of enrolling in college involves several different components. Conducting research, going on campus tours, speaking with enrollment specialists, talking with other students, and preparing applications are all important steps. The next logical step is to start thinking about paying for college

It’s normal to have a lot of financial aid questions when applying for college – it’s a huge investment of time and money that impacts the rest of your life. And you’re not alone in needing some assistance to help fund your education. In fact, 86 percent of college students receive some form of financial aid. 

To help you get some answers to your most pressing financial aid questions, we enlisted Jennifer Davis, assistant director of financial aid at Bellarmine University. Davis has helped thousands of students successfully navigate student aid and FAFSA throughout her career and shares expert advice below. 


11 Financial aid FAQs you want answered 

We compiled some of the financial aid questions that Davis hears most often. Browse the list below to find the answers to your specific questions – and perhaps a few that you didn’t know you should be asking. 

1. What is FAFSA®? 

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. Before each year of college, you should fill out the FAFSA in order to determine your eligibility for federal grants, work-study, and loans. Your college uses your FAFSA data to determine your federal aid eligibility and to award their own aid.   

Popular Federal Aid Programs: 

  • Direct Subsidized Loan Program: Need-based federal loans that do not accrue interest during college.  

  • Unsubsidized Loan Program: Federal loans that accrue interest during college.  

  • Parent PLUS and Graduate PLUS Loans: Federal loans that students and parents of dependent students use to pay for college.  

  • TEACH Grant Program: Program that provides grants of up to $4,000 a year to students who are completing or plan to complete coursework needed to begin a career in teaching. 


2. What information do I need to apply for the FAFSA? 

If you are a dependent student, you will need the following personal and financial information details from you and your parents/guardians to complete the FAFSA. Independent students need only to supply their own information.  

  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen) 

  • Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned 

  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable) 

  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable) 

  • FSA ID to sign electronically 


3. How do I know if I’m eligible for federal financial aid? 

To be eligible for federal financial aid, you must meet the following requirements: 

  • Demonstrate financial need (for most programs) 

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or an eligible noncitizen with a valid Social Security number 

  • Be enrolled as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program 

  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in order to continue receiving aid. Each school has its own policy for tracking and assessing academic progress, so you’ll need to refer to your school’s financial aid office. 


4. Should I file for FAFSA even if I don’t expect to qualify for aid? 

Yes. Davis strongly encourages all students to complete the FAFSA as it will expand your financial aid opportunities regardless of demonstrated financial need. There’s no income cutoff for unsubsidized loans, and some schools also rely on the FAFSA to award scholarships. If you don’t file for FAFSA, you cannot receive federal aid.  


5. What is the difference between a subsidized loan and an unsubsidized loan? 

Subsidized and unsubsidized loans are both parts of the federal direct loan program. The main difference between the two is you must meet financial need requirements to receive subsidized loans.  

An advantage of direct subsidized loans is that the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest while you’re in school at least half time, for the first six months after you leave school, and during periods of deferment (temporary postponement of payments). With unsubsidized loans, interest accrues while you’re in college and during other periods of nonpayment.  



6. Can I claim myself as independent on the FAFSA if my parents are not paying for my college? 

You can declare yourself as independent on your FAFSA application if you meet one or more of the following requirements:  

  • You are at least 24 years old 

  • You are married 

  • You are a graduate or professional student 

  • You are a veteran or a member of the armed forces 

  • You are an orphan or a ward of the court 

  • You have legal dependents other than a spouse 

  • You are an emancipated minor or someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless 


7. What amount of debt can I realistically take on?  

Undergraduate students have annual loan limits and aggregate loan limits. For example, dependent students are eligible for up to $5,500 in federal loans their freshman year, sophomores are eligible for $6,500, and juniors and seniors are eligible for up to $7,500, with an aggregate loan limit of $31,000. Students are encouraged to utilize loan calculators to determine what their expected payments might look like upon repayment.  

“An education is an investment, and sometimes loans are part of that investment, but it is important to be mindful of the amount you borrow,” Davis advises. “That’s why we counsel students on the requirements and responsibilities of taking out loans and require new borrowers to complete Entrance Loan Counseling.” 


8. I’m worried about taking on student loan debt. What advice do you have?   

“Be aware of how much you borrow each year, and make sure you don’t borrow more than you truly need,” Davis recommends. Some schools, including Bellarmine University, offer a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to students who meet specific qualifications in certain majors. 

“These kinds of programs offer a safety net for those families who feel hesitant when borrowing loans,” Davis explains. “Students should use every resource available to them in order to limit their loan debt.” 


9. What are the loan fees and interest rates on my federal loans?   

It’s important to be mindful of the fees and interest rates attached to your federal loans. All federal loans have origination fees, which are taken out prior to the disbursement of those loan funds. For loans disbursed on or after October 1, 2020, and before October 1, 2021, the loan fee is 1.057 percent. For direct loans that are first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020, but before July 1, 2021, the interest rate is fixed at 2.75 percent for undergraduate students.   


10. What are my direct costs?   

During your research process, ask your admissions representative to outline what the actual direct costs will be to attend the school. Direct costs are different than the cost of attendance (COA). Direct costs are what you are actually billed by a school, including things like tuition, fees, room, and board.   

The COA is the total of indirect costs that are associated with attending college, which are not billed to the student – books and supplies, transportation, personal expenses, loan fees, etc. When making plans for paying for college, you’ll want a holistic understanding of the final price tag. 


11. What are my options for aid outside of FAFSA? 

If you’ve completed the FAFSA and still have unmet financial needs, check for outside scholarship opportunities. Potential scholarships can come from organizations you are involved in, employers (your’s or your parents’), religious organizations, clubs, etc. High school guidance counselors are also great resources for finding local opportunities. You can also consult a trusted scholarship search engine where students create a profile in order to determine scholarship eligibilities.   

Another alternative is to take out private loans, which are borrowed by the student or a parent through a private lender. Most students will need a credit-worthy cosigner in order to be approved as the loans are credit-based. Consult with your school’s financial aid office for a list of recommended lenders.   


Fund your future 

Now that some of your financial aid questions have been answered, you should have a better understanding of your options for paying for college. For more information, visit our Financial Aid page

If you’re considering becoming a part of our learning community, check out our article “7 Signs You Belong at Bellarmine University.” 

Tags: FAFSA , Financial Aid , Paying for College

About Bellarmine University

Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.