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Financial aid offers can often contain unfamiliar and confusing terminology. Different colleges may use different terms to mean the same thing.

This dictionary will help match the different language used to the most common term and definition. Type in the term precisely as it appears on your financial aid offer to see if there is a match in the dictionary.

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The specific characteristics around college enrollment that financial aid offices will use when determining financial aid. They may make assumptions around whether a student will be living on or off campus, full time or part-time status, residency, or citizenship status. If any assumptions listed are wrong it is important to correct them with the financial aid office.

Award Year

The academic year that the financial aid offered can be used.

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Books & Supplies

Estimated expenses for textbooks and school supplies such as access codes, laptops, printing, and computer software. The items included in this estimate may vary per college.

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College Savings Plan

A plan established by the federal government that allows families to put money aside for their children's education. Learn more about college savings plans.

Cost of Attendance

Total estimated price for one year of college before financial aid is applied for the cost of tuition and fees, housing, food, and other additional personal and educational expenses.

CSS Profile

An application used by some colleges and universities to determine students' eligibility for institutional grants and scholarships. This form is primarily asked for by private colleges/universities and a few public universities. You should check with each college to determine what financial aid forms they require. To learn more or to fill out the CSS Profile go to

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Dependency Status

The conditions of a student's situation that determine whether they have to provide their parent(s) information and income on the FAFSA they submit. Learn more about dependency status.

Direct Costs

Charges that come directly from the college, including tuition, fees, housing, and meal plan.

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The criteria a student must meet to qualify for financial aid. Different sources of aid have different eligibility criteria. An example is a student's citizenship status. Federal student aid programs require students to be US citizens, a non-citizen with a Permanent Resident Card, or someone designated as a refugee, Asylum Granted, Parolee in good standing, or a victim of human trafficking. Learn more about eligibility.


The process of actually attending college. Many times this term is used on a financial aid offer to message a student's status of being a full-time or part-time student.

Entrance Loan Counseling

A process first-time federal student loan borrowers must complete before they receive their loan. The purpose is to give students an understanding of their responsibilities and rights as a borrower. Most students complete loan counseling online. Learn more about entrance loan counseling.

Estimated Bill

The approximate amount you will need to pay directly to the college to enroll; additional personal and educational expenses are not included. This calculation can vary per college and may or may not include loans.

Expected Family Contribution

A number received upon completion of the FAFSA that the federal government, state government, and the college will use to determine how much need-based aid to offer a student. This amount is calculated using the household and income information submitted on the FAFSA. Learn more about the Expected Family Contribution.

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An application students complete to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid and other aid programs based on their need for financial assistance to pay for college. To complete the FAFSA go to

Family Support

The costs of caring for dependents, including daycare, food, clothing, and support services.

Financial Aid Offer

A list of the types and amounts of financial aid a college is offering a student including grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study for one year of school.

Financial Need

A calculation done by colleges when determining how much financial aid to offer. It is calculated by subtracting the expected family contribution (EFC) from the cost of attendance.

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Financial aid that is based on financial need as determined by a government agency or a college. Students don't have to repay grants. Learn more about federal grants.

Grants & Scholarships

Financial Aid that you do not need to pay back. Each grant and scholarship may have specific requirements to maintain eligibility and/or renew, such as maintaining a certain GPA or taking a certain number of classes. Learn more about scholarships.

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Housing & Meals

Housing: if living on campus, the estimated cost of living in the dorms/student apartments. If living off campus or at home, it is an estimate provided by the college for rent, utilities, furnishings, and maintenance of the place a student lives.
Meals: if living on campus the food you eat in the dining hall as well as beverages, and snacks a student may buy. If living off-campus, an estimate of costs to purchase food for the year.

Housing Status

Where a student will live while attending college. A student's housing plans may change from year to year and affect how much financial aid they receive.

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Indirect Expenses

Estimated additional personal and educational expenses needed throughout the academic year that aren't listed on the college bill: books; transportation; living expenses, such as rent and food, if living off campus.

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Loan origination fee

A fee the lender charges to cover the cost of making a loan. The federal government charges origination fees on all federal direct loans. To learn more about loan origination fees go here.


Loans are money people borrow and repay with interest, which is a charge a person pays over time for using the money. A student can choose to reduce the amount or decline the loans listed on their financial aid offer. To figure out the full cost of borrowing a loan, we recommend using a loan calculator.

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Master Promissory Note

A legal document students sign indicating they understand their responsibilities as federal loan borrowers and agree to repay their loan, interest, and fees. Most colleges allow students to borrow multiple loans without having to sign additional MPNs. Learn more or complete an MPN.

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Net Cost

Remaining costs for one year of college after grants, scholarships, and waivers are applied. Includes any loans you borrow, the money you pay directly to the college, and additional personal and educational expenses throughout the year. Calculated by subtracting grants, scholarships, and waivers from the cost of attendance (cost of attendance - grants, scholarships, & waivers = net cost).

Net Direct Cost

The amount a student has to pay to the college after grants, scholarships, and waivers are subtracted from direct costs. This calculation does not include any indirect expenses. Direct costs - grants, scholarships, & waivers = net direct cost.

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Out of Pocket Costs

The definition of this term may vary per college. At many colleges, it refers to the amount left to pay after grants, scholarships, waivers, and loans are applied. Check the definition at each college and don't assume it means the same thing.

Outside Scholarships

Scholarships from an organization or business other than a college or a government agency awarded to students to help pay for college. Many students find outside scholarships through their community, high school, or online searches. Some are renewable and others are awarded on a one-time basis.

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Parent Contribution

The amount of money colleges expect parents to contribute toward the cost of their children's education. Parents can use current income, savings, and loans to pay for their contribution.

Parent PLUS Loan

A federal loan that parents can borrow to pay college costs for their child. This loan requires credit approval. If approved, parents can borrow up to the cost of attendance at a college minus the financial aid offered. Learn more about the PLUS Loan.

Pell Grant

A federal grant that can be used at any eligible college. The amount received is based on need as determined by the expected family contribution (EFC) provided after completing the FAFSA. Learn more about the Pell Grant.

Personal expenses

Estimated expenses for personal needs outside of books and supplies. It can include laundry, self-care/hygiene products, uniforms, social activities, internet, and cell phone service. The items included in this estimate may vary per college.

Physical & Mental Healthcare

Health care services, fees, co-pays, over-the-counter medications, and other expenses not covered by insurance related to physical and mental well-being. The items included in this estimate may vary per college.

Private Loan

A plan established by the federal government that allows families to put A loan from a non-government organization, usually a bank, that a student or parent may be able to borrow to pay college costs. Private loans must be applied for and eligibility is based on the applicant's credits. They may have higher interest rates and less flexible repayment plans than federal loans.

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Required Course Materials

Textbooks, printed materials, software, access codes, clickers, and additional course requirements in syllabi. The items included in this estimate may vary per college.


The definition of this term may vary per college. At many colleges, it refers to additional options you may be able to access to help cover the cost of college. Check the definition at each college and don't assume it means the same thing.

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Satisfactory Academic Progress

The grade point average students must achieve and course credits they must pass to continue receiving federal, state, and institutional financial aid. These policies can vary per college. Learn more about satisfactory academic progress (SAP).


Financial aid that is often based on merit, awarded to students who excel in a particular area such as academics, athletics, music, or leadership. Students don't have to repay scholarships.

Self Help Financial Aid

A term some colleges use to talk about funds students receive to help them pay for college that they have to earn or repay. Work-study and Direct Loans are examples.

SEOG Grant

A federal grant that is given out by the financial aid office the college. You could receive this grant at one college but not another depending on how the financial aid office distributes the funds. Learn more about the SEOG.

State Residency

The length of time a student must live in a state to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities and state-funded scholarships and grants.

Student Contribution

The amount of money colleges expect students to contribute toward the cost of college from their savings and earnings.

Subsidized Direct Loan

A federal, low-interest loan that students who demonstrate financial need can borrow for college costs. The federal government pays the interest on the loan while students are attending college, reducing the total amount students will have to repay. Learn more about the subsidized Direct Loan.

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Transportation Costs

Estimated expenses for travel to work, home, school, shopping centers, school breaks that include gas, car insurance, maintenance, parking, public transit or ride-share. The items included in this estimate may vary per college.

Tuition & Fees

The cost of classes and other resources on campus. Tuition is charged differently per college, some may charge a lump sum and others may charge per credit or class.

Tuition Deposit

An amount of money paid to a college to secure a student's spot at that college. Most 4-year colleges will require a tuition deposit.

Tuition Payment Plan

A plan that allows students to split their semester or quarter bill into monthly payments. Most payment plans require a small fee to sign up.

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Unsubsidized Direct Loan

A federal, low-interest loan that students can borrow for college costs. It is called an unsubsidized loan because the federal government does not pay the interest on the loan while students are attending college. Learn more about the unsubsidized Direct Loan.

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The process students must complete confirming financial or household information they have submitted on the FAFSA. If selected, each college will provide information on how to complete verification.

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Financial aid provided by the college or state that can remove costs from the bill, waivers can only be applied to specific costs such as tuition. Students don't have to repay waivers.


After securing a work-study job through the college, students are eligible to earn up to the amount offered on their financial aid offer. The money earned is not typically available to pay the college bill; students will be paid directly via paychecks for the hours worked throughout the semester or year. Learn more about work-study.