• College Costs & Financial Aid

    This section...

    • Sources of Financial Aid
    • The Cost of College 
    • Talking with your Parents about College Costs
    • The Financial Aid Calculator
    • Steps to completing the FAFSA
    • Financial Aid Glossary of Terms


    What is financial aid?
    Financial aid is the money to help you pay for college. It may be in the form of grants, scholarships, loans, work study programs or a combination. The aid comes from federal and state governments, colleges and universities, banks and private organizations.


    NOTE: Sometimes students mistakenly use the terms scholarships and financial aid interchangeably. Financial Aid can include loans; scholarships are not repaid


    Applying to receive financial aid is a separate process from applying for admission to college; you have to do both. For all government aid, and much private and institutional aid, you apply using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA (see following pages for more details).

    Primary sources of Financial Aid:



    Grants are free money- they don’t have to be repaid. Grants from the state and federal government as well as from colleges. Generally grants are based on financial need, which means that they are awarded based on your family’s size and financial circumstances. One example of a grant is the Pell Grant from the federal government. For 2020-2021, the maximum grant, which is available to students with the most financial need, was $6,345. To earn a Pell Grant, you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen and must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.)


    Scholarships are also free money and don’t need to be repaid. Scholarships can come from a variety of places, from state and federal governments to colleges and private companies. Scholarships may be awarded based on your financial need, academic achievement, community service, athletic talent, and many other factors. 


    Loans are money that you borrow from a bank, government, or private lending company. A loan must be repaid with interest. Loans offered by the government often have lower interest rates and can be repaid over an extended period of time. Visit www.studentloans.gov for more information.

    Work Study

    Work-Study allows you to receive funds through part-time employment while you are enrolled in college and can help you pay part of your college costs. Unlike other campus jobs, students apply for Work-Study by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 


    Other Sources of Financial Aid:

    Very few students get all of their financial aid for college from one source. When you are searching for financial aid, consider a wide variety of options and apply to as many programs as possible. 


    Here are some common types of organizations that offer financial aid: 


    Your college: Colleges and Universities offer financial aid programs for their students. VIsit the financial aid webpages of every college you are considering and apply for all the scholarships you think you might be eligible to receive.


    The community: Nonprofit organizations, foundations, and businesses often provide scholarships as a community service. To find these programs, talk to your counselor, or check out the scholarship page on the FHS website.


    The Government: The Federal Government offers over $150 billion in aid each year. Likewise, Tennessee offers millions of dollars to its students. In the next section (Scholarships), you will find a description of some of the scholarships available from the state of Tennessee.


    The Cost of College


    College cost is not just tuition. It can include:

    • Additional fees (parking fees for example)
    • Health Insurance (most 4 year colleges require proof of health insurance; if you don’t have health insurance, they usually have a student insurance plan you can purchase).
    • Housing plan (can vary in cost- single, double, apartment style, common bathrooms)
    • Meal plan (can vary in cost)
    • Books and supplies
    • Living & social expenses
    • Transportation costs 


    When is the right time to talk to your parents about college costs? 


    Talking about college costs with your parents can be awkward and stressful. The longer you wait to have the conversation, the more stressed you will feel. If you are thinking about college, then now is a great time to bring up the topic of college and how to pay for it. 


    Even if you think your family can pay for all your college expenses, it is a good idea to have a conversation with your family about their financial picture and their expectations, so there are no unpleasant surprises or disagreements when you receive your acceptances. 


    College Cost Comparison Tools:


    You can actually start to estimate your college financial aid and out of pocket costs now. Every college is required to have a Net Price Calculator on their website. By entering your family’s financial information and your academic information, the calculator will provide you with an estimate of your financial aid and out of pocket costs. 


    Examples of Net Price Calculators:


    Belmont University: https://belmont.studentaidcalculator.com/survey.aspx

    Carson Newman University: https://www.cn.edu/administration/financial-aid/undergraduate-students/net-price-calculator-for-aid-estimates

    ETSU: https://www.etsu.edu/paying-for-college/estimator/

    Maryville College: https://www.maryvillecollege.edu/admissions/finaid/resources/net-price-calculator/

    MTSU: https://www.mtsu.edu/financial-aid/npcalc/npcalc.htm

    Sewanee: https://www.collegenpc.com/Sewanee

    University of Tennessee: https://onestop.utk.edu/cost-estimate/
    University of Tennessee @ Chattanooga: https://www.utc.edu/financial-aid/estimating-your-cost/net-price-calculator.php

    Tusculum University: https://web.tusculum.edu/calculator/calculator.php

    Vanderbilt University: https://www.vanderbilt.edu/financialaid/net-price-calculator.php

    FAFSA Completion!

    Q: Why do you have to complete the FAFSA?

    A: Because “I said so”. 


    What is the FAFSA?

    Most federal and state financial aid programs require you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filing the FAFSA is free! The FAFSA is an important part of your higher education journey (you have to complete it every year you go to college) and it might even mean free money to cover your college costs.


    The FAFSA asks for information about your and your family’s finances, including tax returns, so you’ll need your parent’s help to complete it. 

    Completing the FAFSA is the application for the HOPE scholarship, and it’s a requirement of receiving the TnPromise scholarship. 


    Steps to completing the FAFSA:

    1. Get your FSA ID (you and your parent). Go to www.fafsa.gov to create your FSA ID.

    Creating an FSA ID takes about 15 minutes and should be done before completing the FAFSA form online.


    The FSA ID will also follow you throughout all of your college career, so be sure you are correctly entering the information and using an email and phone number that will not change after you graduate from high school or move to another residence.


    1. Student will need:
      1. Email address:
      2. Create a username
      3. Create a password
      4. Date of Birth
      5. Challenge questions and answers (write this down!)
    2. Parent information needed to create FSA ID:
      1. Email address (different than student)
      2. Create a Username
      3. Create a password
      4. Date of Birth
      5. Challenge questions and answers (write this down!)


    1. Complete the FAFSA (with your parent)

    When you are ready, your parent/guardian are ready to complete the FAFSA, you will need your parent/guardian to have an FSA ID. Go back to step 1 if you and your parent/guardian have not created an FSA ID.


    The FAFSA requires financial information from your parents/guardians so that the Federal Government knows whether or not you are eligible for financial aid. Colleges and universities also look at these numbers sto offer you additional financial support and resources to help you succeed after you have been admitted.


    You will need:

    Parents tax returns, W-2s (if you filed electronically, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Form)

    Your tax returns, W-2s


    NOTE: the tax returns are always “prior-prior” year returns. For example, if you are entering college in the fall of 2022, then you will need 2020 tax returns to complete the FAFSA for the Fall 2022.


    Financial Aid Glossary of Terms


    Academic Year: A measure of academic work to be accomplished by a student. A school defines its own academic year but federal regulations set minimum standards schools must adhere to if they wish to award federal financial aid funds. For example, the academic year must be at least 30 weeks of instructional time in which a full time student is expected to complete at least 24 semester or trimester hours, 36 quarter hours, or 900 clock hours. 


    Award Letter: An official document from a college or other financial aid sponsor that lists all of the financial aid being offered to the students. The letter provides details explaining how the student’s financial need was determined, describes the details of the financial aid package (amount, source, and type of aid), and discusses the terms and conditions attached to the financial aid award.


    Cost of Attendance (COA): Used to determine the student’s scheduled Pell Grant award and is always based on the cost for a full time student for an entire academic year. These costs can consist of:

    • Tuition and fees
    • Allowances for room and board
    • Allowance for books, supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous personal expenses. 
    • Allowances established by the school for dependent care, disability related expenses, study abroad, and employment expenses related to cooperative education programs.


    Custodial Parent: If a student’s parents are divorced or separated, the custodial parent is the one with whom the student loved the most during the past 12 months. The student’s need analysis is based on financial information supplied by the custodial parent.


    Dependency Status: A student’s dependency status determines to what degree the student is expected to have access to parental financial resources. An independent student is one who is 24 years old, is married, is a graduate or professional student, has legal dependents other than a spouse, is a veteran, or is an orphan or ward of the court. All other students are considered dependent and as such, must provide information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

    Dependents: Any child of the student who receives more than half support from the student (the child does not live with the student), including a natural or adopted child, or a child for whom the student is a legal guardian. Also, any person who lives with the student and receives more than  half support from the student during the award year. 


    Dependent Student: A student who does not qualify as an independent student.


    EFC: When you apply for federal student aid, the information you report is used in a formula established by the U.S. Congress. The formula determines your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward your education (although this amount may not exactly match the amount you and your family end up contributing). If your EFC is below a certain amount, you’ll be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant, assuming you meet all other eligibility requirements.


    Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): This is the application that must be filed by an application to apply for any student financial aid distributed by the federal government. 

    Federal Pell Grant Program: This is a type of federal financial aid awarded to qualified applicants. A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a load, does not have to be repaid. Generally, Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or professional degree (a professional degree is usually earned after earning a bachelor’s degree in a field such as medicine, law, or dentistry). In some cases, you may receive a Pell Grant for attending a post baccalaureate teacher certification program. For many students, Pell Grants provide a foundation of financial aid to which other aid may be added.


    Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) Program: A federal grant program for undergraduate students with exceptional need. Students demonstrating financial need may be awarded grants of up to $4,000. SEOG grants are awarded by the school’s financial aid office. To qualify, a student must also receive a Pell Grant. 


    Federal Work Study: The Federal Work-Study program is a form of cooperative education which provides students with an on and off-campus employment while in school that is theoretically career-oriented (but general office and clerical positions are not uncommon). Eligibility is based on need. Essentially FWS pays a portion of the student’s salary while the hiring departments and business pay the remainder. 


    Financial Aid Package: The total financial aid package received by a student from all sources (federal, state, institutional, and private). THe financial aid package is likely to be made up of a combination of aid (grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study). Unsubsidized Stafford loans and PLUS loans are not considered part of the financial aid package, since they are available to the family to help  meet the Expected Family Contribution. 


    FSA ID: Students create a username and password that you must use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education online systems. It is used to electronically access and sign eht FAFSA.


    Gift aid: Financial aid that is given to you and you do not have to repay it. For example, scholarships or grants.

    Grant: Financial award for which there is no expectation or repayment or services to be performed. 


    Independent Student: For financial aid purposes, an independent student is one who is at least 24 years old as of January 1, is married, has a legal dependent other than a spouse, is a veteran of the US armed forces, is a graduate or professional students, or is an orphan or ward of the court (or was a ward of the court until the age of 18). ALl other students are considered dependent. Parent refusal to provide support for a child’s education is not sufficient for the child to be declared independent.


    Institutional Methodology: A formula, other than the federal methodology, used by a college or university to determine financial need for the allocation of said school’s financial aid funds.


    Loan: An award made to a student with a formal agreement for repayment with interest. 


    Merit Based: Financial aid that is based on the student’s achievements in areas such as academic or special talents such as music or athletics.


    Need Based Aid: Financial aid that is based on the student’s financial situation.


    Out of State Student: A student who does not meet the financial residency requirements for the state. State public colleges and universities often charge out-of-state students a higher tuition rate.


    Postsecondary: “After high school.” Refers to all programs for high school graduates.

    Professional Judgment: For need-based federal aid programs, the financial aid administrator can adjust the EFC, adjust the COA, or change the dependency status (with documentation) when extenuating circumstances exist. For example, if a parent becomes unemployed, disabled or deceased, the FAA can decide to use estimated income information for the award year instead of the actual income figures form the base year. This delegation of authority from the federal government to the financial aid administrator is called professional judgment (PJ). 


    Student Aid Report (SAR): A federal output document generated by the FAFSA processor and downloaded by the student. The SAR contains the family’s financial information and other information as reported by the student on the FAFSA. THe student’s eligibility for financial aid is indicated by the EFC printed on the front of the SAR.

    Satisfactory Academic Progress: The academic progress required of a financial aid recipient to receive federal and or state financial aid funds.


    Scholarship: A form of financial assistance which does not require repayment or employment and is made to the student based upon criteria established by the donor(s) or the institution.


    Subsidized Loan: The federal government pays the interest on the loan (‘subsidizes’ the loan) until the borrower begins repayment and during authorized periods of deferment thereafter. 


    TSAA: Tennessee Student Assistance Awards (Grants) Program: Provides non-repayable financial assistance to financially needy undergraduate students who are resident of Tennessee and are enrolled, or accepted for enrollment, at a public or an eligible non public post-secondary educational institution in Tennessee.


    Unmet Need: When the combination of a student’s financial aid package and the family contribution does not cover the costs of attending a particular college, the gap is called the Unmet Need.

    Unsubsidized Loan: The borrower will be charged interest from the time the loan is disbursed until it is paid in full. The borrower can choose to pay the interest or allow it to accumulate. If the borrower allows the interest to accumulate, it will be capitalized- that is, the interest will be added to the principal amount of the loan and will increase the amount that will have to be repaid. If the borrower pays the interest as it accumulates, repayment will be less in the long run. 


    Verification: Verification is a review process in which the Office of Student Financial Aid (OSFA) determines the accuracy of the information provided on the student’s financial aid application. During verification the student will be required to submit documentation to support the information listed (or not listed) on the financial aid application. The student will most likely have to provide a tax transcript for the parent(s): https://www.irs.gov/individuals/get-transcript


    Work Study: A form of self-help aid. Work study aid is money a student must earn by working a part time job, usually at the college or university the student is attending or at a non profit organization. The Federal Work Study PRogram is probably the most familiar example of this type of program, although many colleges may offer similar programs. Funds for most of the wages a work-study student earns come freo the Federal Work-Study Program.