Financial Aid

Answering Your Top Questions about Financial Aid Offers

We discuss work study, the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, how scholarships affect financial aid, subsidized vs unsubsidized loans, Federal Direct Loan limits and interest rates, MA state aid, and how to use your college savings funds.
Father and daughter using laptop in living room

With high school seniors in the thick of college decision season, we're receiving plenty of questions about financial aid offers from parents and students. We've compiled some of our most popular questions below, and included detailed answers, with helpful links spread throughout. If you need to compare your financial aid offers to determine your balance due at each school, use our College Cost Calculator to do so. And if you need further assistance, see the end of this post for ways to contact us. We're happy to help!


Is there an advantage to having a work-study job versus a regular part-time job?

Your work-study earnings won't count as student income when your financial aid eligibility is assessed in a future year. And a work-study job will keep you close to campus and likely provide you a supervisor who understands your priority to keep up with your schoolwork. But there are usually plenty of other part-time jobs on or near campus. Work-study earnings are taxable just like the earnings from other part-time jobs.


Where can the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship be used? And is it for 4 years?

You may use the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship at any of the 29 public colleges and universities in Massachusetts, including all community colleges and UMass schools. And it's available for eight semesters. Learn more here.

What if I win a scholarship after I have paid my bill?

If your college receives scholarship funds on your behalf after your bill is paid, you'll have a credit on your student account at the college, which you can put toward future expenses or withdraw to use for other costs.

Could a college reduce my financial aid if I receive too many scholarships from outside sources?

If you received any need-based aid from the college, then your total of need-based aid and scholarships (which we consider merit-based aid) must be less than or equal to your "Financial Need" (the school's Cost of Attendance minus your EFC). Your college can let you know your specific Financial Need number. If your need-based aid and scholarships exceed your Financial Need, the college will need to reduce some of that need-based aid, but you can usually specify what type of aid they reduce. If you only received merit-based aid, you can receive that up to the total Cost of Attendance at the school. You can learn about the difference between need-based aid and merit-based aid here.


What determines if you receive a Subsidized or Unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan?

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are need-based, which means you must have Financial Need not covered by other need-based financial aid to receive one. Unsubsidized Loans are not need-based, so any student eligible for federal financial aid, no matter his or her financial circumstances, can receive one.

I received a $5,500 Federal Direct Loan but I only need $2,000. What do I do?

You can request that the college reduce your loan to the amount you need. Contact the Financial Aid or Billing/Bursar's Office to do so. You may also be able to reduce your loan amount on the student portal.

If I don't borrow my Federal Direct Loan for my freshman year, could I still borrow it for my sophomore year?

Yes, you may borrow a Federal Direct Loan in a future year as long as you attend college at least part time in a degree-seeking program and submit the FAFSA, which you must submit each year to apply for financial aid. You won't receive any additional grant or scholarship aid by refusing your Direct Loan, but you'll reduce your overall student debt, which is a positive.

Can I request a higher amount of Federal Direct Loans?

There are maximum amounts that students can receive in Federal Direct Loans: $5,500 for freshmen, $6,500 for sophomores, and $7,500 for juniors and for seniors. These limits must account for the total of the Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loan.

Who is the borrower on Federal Direct Loans?

The student is the sole borrower on the Federal Direct Loan. No parent or other co-borrower is on the loan.

When will we know the interest rate for the upcoming academic year Federal Direct Loans?

The interest rate for the Federal Direct Loan is based on the 10-year Treasury Note final auction prior to June 1st each year. As a result, the interest rate will become known in late May.

MA State Aid

My child did receive financial aid from the federal government and the school, but received nothing from Massachusetts. Do we apply for MA state aid separately?

By submitting the FAFSA, you're applying for MA state aid. The colleges will award you any MA aid for which you are eligible. Keep in mind that most MA aid is designated for low-income students.


How do we use our U.Plan or U.Fund 529 funds to pay the bill?

If you have saved in the U.Plan, you'll receive a Distribution Request Form in the mail in April on which you can designate where MEFA should send your U.Plan funds. You can also log in to your U.Plan account online to request a distribution of your funds. If you saved in a U.Fund, you can either use Fidelity's Transfer Tool to send the funds to another Fidelity account or an outside bank account, download and complete a College Investing Plan Distribution Form, or use Fidelity BillPay® to send funds anywhere.

Should I use my 529 funds all for freshman year or spread it out?

Deciding how to spend down your college savings is a family decision based on your own finances. Some families use their savings all up front, to delay borrowing as long as possible. Others spread it out over four years, continuing to earn a bit of interest on their savings during that time. It's important to think about how your income and other financial resources might change in the next few years. Do you plan to retire soon? Or do you anticipate an increase in salary? We have further guidance on this topic in our blog here.

Still have questions about your financial aid? You can attend one of our How to Pay for College: A Guide for High School Seniors & Families webinars, watch our recorded webinar, call us at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or email us at

Watch the How to Pay for College webinar