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Financial Aid

Do You Know These Financial Aid Acronyms?

Learn the meaning of FAFSA, EFC, COA, FWS, SAR, ED, CSS, FAA, PLUS, and MEFA.
Students using a laptop

Higher education has a certain fondness for acronyms, and financial aid undoubtedly has their fair share. As you venture into the world of applying for financial aid you will encounter many acronyms, some of which will become ingrained in your memory (e.g. EFC). At MEFA, we want to prepare you for this journey.



Below is a list of 10 common financial aid acronyms.  Memorize these and you will be on your way to financial aid success (and impressing your friends and families as you go).

  1. FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): The FAFSA is the federal form required to apply for financial aid. All colleges and universities that disburse federal student aid funds (called Title IV funds) to students and families (this likely includes every school on your college list) require completion of the FAFSA. Learn more about the FAFSA (and apply) here.

  2. EFC (Expected Family Contribution): The EFC is used by financial aid staff to help determine your financial aid eligibility. The number itself is derived from the information reported on your FAFSA. It’s supposed to represent what your family can contribute toward college costs for one year, but does not define what you’ll actually end up paying. Read more about the EFC.

  3. COA (Cost of Attendance): Each college and university has their own COA, which is their total cost for one year of college. Generally speaking, the cost of attendance includes both billable expenses (e.g. tuition, fees) and estimates for non-billable/indirect expenses (e.g. books, supplies, travel, and personal expenses).

  4. FWS (Federal Work-Study): A form of financial aid that allows students to work part time on or near campus while in college, the FWS program provides students a paycheck throughout the year (like a normal job). Not all students qualify for FWS funds. Learn more about federal work-study.

  5. SAR (Student Aid Report): After completing the FAFSA, students receive a digital copy of the information they submitted on the FAFSA called a SAR, or Student Aid Report. When you receive a SAR, be sure to check it and, if necessary, log back into your FAFSA to make any necessary changes (remember, an extra “0” at the end of your income can make a big difference!)

  6. ED (Department of Education): ED is the federal department that oversees all education-related activities in the nation, including higher education.

  7. CSS (College Scholastic Service) ProfileTM: The CSS Profile is required by almost 250 colleges, universities, and scholarship organizations, and is used to determine the distribution of a college or university’s own financial aid funds (sometimes referred to as “institutional funds” or “institutional aid”). More information is available in our CSS Profile webinar. To complete the application, visit the CSS Profile website.

  8. FAA (Financial Aid Administrator): FAAs are individuals who work in the financial aid office.  Typically, you will be assigned one FAA as your point of contact throughout the financial aid process.

  9. PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students): Also known as the Federal Direct PLUS Loan, parents can apply for this federal loan, if needed, to cover educational expenses for their sons and daughters. Read more about the PLUS Loan.

  10. MEFA (Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority): How could we resist? MEFA is here to support you and your family during every step of the college planning process. Make sure to check back to the MEFA blog often for new posts, refer to our website for tools and resources, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for helpful information.


So there you have it. A list of 10 acronyms that will help you along your college financial aid journey!





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