Virtual Financial Aid Office FAQ

This FAQ will help answer some of the more common questions students may have about the VFAO system.
VFAO Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions
I do not know what college grade level I am. How do I find out?
Where do I complete my exit interview?
How do I get a copy of my tax return?
How do I know if I qualify for student loans?
How do I know if I qualify for grants?

Terminology
What is a SAR?
What is an ISIR?
What is an EFC?
What is an MPN?
What are PLUS loans?
What is an AC Grant?
What is a SMART Grant?

Technology Questions
What are the minimum computer system requirements to use the VFAO?
What technology does the VFAO use?
Where can I download a recent version of Adobe Acrobat?
What type of security/encryption does the VFAO provide?

Financial Aid Process Questions
Why do I have to complete a financial aid interview?
What are the basic types of Federal Aid that are available to me?
How can I check on the status of my financial aid?
Why is my request for financial aid delayed?
How is my financial aid eligibility calculated?
Why do I have to complete the FAFSA before I complete a financial aid interview?
Why is the VFAO sending email notifications instead of letters via postal mail when communicating with a student?
Where do I sign my Master Promissory Note (MPN)?
What makes me a dependent or independent student?
When does the school issue a refund check?
Will my Pell Grant be reduced if I drop classes?
Why was I selected for verification?
I have completed the Financial Aid Interview. What happens next?

Financial Aid Interview Questions
How can I ask for loans for a financial aid interview that I’ve submitted for processing in which I requested “Grants only”?
Why can't I add a term on the additional funds form?
Why is the estimated financial plan that I received at the end of the interview only an estimate?
If I quit my financial aid interview and come back later, will I have to start all over?
Is my VFAO password the same as my FAFSA PIN?

 

General Questions

If you are not sure what your current grade level is, then you should contact your campus administrator.

VFAO does not perform exit interviews. Please contact your campus administrator for guidance as to where you may complete your exit interview.

You may get a copy of your tax return by contacting the Internal Revenue Service. You may visit the IRS online at http://www.irs.gov.

You may complete a rough estimate of your student loan eligibility by visiting the Financial Aid Estimator. You may receive a detailed estimate of your student loan eligibility by completing a Financial Aid Interview.

If you have a bachelor’s degree, you do NOT qualify for grants. You may complete a rough estimate of your student grant eligibility by visiting the Financial Aid Estimator. You may receive a detailed estimate of your student grant eligibility by completing a Financial Aid Interview.

Terminology

A SAR is a Student Aid Report. The SAR is a report that you received when you completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By completing a VFAO interview, the VFAO staff will receive an electronic copy of your SAR, which is called an ISIR.

An ISIR is an Institutional Student Information Report. The ISIR is a report that is received by each school that you designated on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By completing a VFAO interview, the VFAO staff will receive a copy of your ISIR.

EFC is the Expected Family Contribution as computed by the U.S. Department of Education when you completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This value is used to compute grant and loan eligibility with respect to total cost of education for a program of study at an institution of higher education.

An MPN is a Master Promissory Note. It is a promissory note signed by a student in which the student acknowledges their responsibility to repay all loans incurred during the student’s education. Once an MPN has been signed, the student should not have to sign another one during their education.

PLUS loans are parent loans for undergraduate students. PLUS loans provide a method for parents to acquire loans to assist their dependent student in meeting the cost of education that is not met by grant, loan, or other aid sources. Eligibility for PLUS loans is subject to a review of creditworthiness of the parent as determined by credit bureaus.

As of July 1, 2006, independent graduate students may apply for a PLUS loan in order to meet the cost of education that is not met by grant, loan, or other aid sources. In this case, eligibility for PLUS loans is subject to a review of creditworthiness of the student as determined by credit bureaus.

An AC Grant is the Academic Competitiveness Grant. This program began in 2006 as a supplemental grant to students who meet the following requirements:

  • Student is a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Student is a Federal Pell Grant recipient
  • Student has completed a rigorouse secondary school program of study
  • Student is enrolled in a one- or two-year certificate program offered at a two-year or four-year degree granting institution of postsecondary education
  • Student is enrolled in the first or second academic year of his or her program of study leading to an associate's or bachelor's degree at a two-year or four-year degree-granting institution
  • Student's enrollment status must be either full-time, three-quarter-time or half-time
  • Student is classified as a sophomore and has at least a 3.0 cumulative grade point average on a 4.0 scale at the end of the first academic year

This is merely a summary of the AC Grant requirements. AC Grant eligibility requirements are subject to change without notice by the U.S. Department of Education. For further clarification of AC Grant eligibility requirements, including what the U.S. Department of Education defines as a “rigorous secondary school program of study,” please visit http://www.ed.gov/print/admins/finaid/about/ac-smart/state-programs06.html

An AC Grant has the following possible award amounts: First-Year Award Amount

  • For the 2010-2011 Year: Up to $750 per academic year of the cost of education not met by all other combined aid source amounts.
  • For the 2011-2012 Year: Up to $750 per academic year of the cost of education not met by all other combined aid source amounts.
  • AC Grant award amounts will be pro-rated with respect to the student's enrollment status. Students enrolled half-time will receive 50% of a full grant. Students enrolled three-quarter-time will receive 75% of a full grant.

Second-Year Award Amount

  • For the 2010-2011 Year: Up to $1,300 per academic year of the cost of education not met by all other combined aid source amounts.
  • For the 2011-2012 Year: Up to $1,300 per academic year of the cost of education not met by all other combined aid source amounts.
  • AC Grant award amounts will be pro-rated with respect to the student's enrollment status. Students enrolled half-time will receive 50% of a full grant. Students enrolled three-quarter-time will receive 75% of a full grant.

A student’s eligibility for the AC Grant will be determined and documented by the institution at which the student is enrolled.

The SMART Grant is the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant. This program began in 2006 as a supplemental grant to students who meet the following requirements:

  • Student is a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Student is a Federal Pell Grant recipient
  • Student is enrolled in an eligible degree program at a four-year degree granting institution
  • Student is classified as either a junior or senior or as a fifth-year student in a degree program requiring five academic years for completion
  • Student has at least a 3.0 cumulative grade point average on a 4.0 scale for all coursework required for a degree in an approved major. SMART Grant eligibility will be determined prior to the beginning of each payment period.
  • Student's enrollment status must be either full-time, three-quarter-time or half-time
  • Student is enrolled in a single liberal arts curriculum leading to a baccarlaureate degree and cannot declare a major. Student must take coursework certified by the school that is at least equal to the requirements for a SMART Grant eligible major at another insitution that offers a baccalaureate in a SMART Grant eligible major. The student must achieve at least a 3.0 cumulative grade point average on a 4.0 scale as described above.

SMART Grant eligibility requirements are subject to change without notice by the U.S. Department of Education. For further clarification of SMART Grant eligible major courses of study please visit http://www.ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/attachments/GEN0606A.pdf

A SMART Grant has the following possible award amounts:

Third- and Fourth-Year Award Amount

  • For the 2010-2011 Year: Up to $4,000 per academic year of the cost of education not met by all other combined aid source amounts.
  • For the 2011-2012 Year: Up to $4,000 per academic year of the cost of education not met by all other combined aid source amounts.
  • SMART Grant award amounts will be pro-rated with respect to the student's enrollment status. Students enrolled half-time will receive 50% of a full grant. Students enrolled three-quarter-time will receive 75% of a full grant.

A student’s eligibility for the SMART Grant will be determined and documented by the institution at which the student is enrolled.

Technology Questions

A computer running Windows XP SP2 (or higher) with Internet Explorer 6 (or higher) or a computer with any operating system (including Macs) that supports a Mozilla 5.0 (or higher) based browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Netscape. The VFAO may be compatible with other browsers, but we only provide support for users on Internet Explorer or Mozilla. There is a bug in the current versions of the Opera browser that will prevent users with that browser from using the VFAO at this time.

The VFAO application is an ASP.NET application written in C# using the Microsoft .NET framework. Data is stored and managed with Microsoft SQL Server.

You may download Adobe Acrobat at: http://get.adobe.com/reader

The VFAO system provides several layers of defense to help protect data from security threats. To protect data as passes between a user’s web browser and our web server, we use industry standard SSL encryption. Our SSL identity is verified by a published security certificate provided by an internationally recognized certificate authority. Within our internal network, we protect sensitive data through several different mechanisms including, but not limited to, the encryption of sensitive data, multiple firewalls to prevent unauthorized access, real-time virus scanning, and intrusion detection systems that constantly police the network and inform our IT Operations Management team of any vulnerabilities or threats that might arise. We have several operational policies and server maintenance procedures in place to help ensure that all of our systems are using the most secure and up-to-date software available, and that any security patches or upgrades are applied as soon as they become available.

Financial Aid Process Questions

Why do I have to complete a financial aid interview?

Completing the financial aid interview is a necessary process through which the student provides the financial aid office with data that are required to process Federal Student Aid but were NOT gathered by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

What are the basic types of Federal Aid that are available to me?

Federal Pell Grant: Federal Pell Grants are available only to undergraduate students who are working on their first undergraduate degree or a certificate, diploma or associate degree. Grants do not have to be repaid. Your Pell Grant award amount will be determined by the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) listed on your Student Aid Report (SAR) and your attendance status at your institution. Some certificate and diploma program student grants may be less than 100% of full eligibility.

Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loans (FDSL): Federal Direct Student Loans are student loans that must be repaid and are available to certificate, diploma, associate degree, undergraduate and graduate students. If your school participates in the Federal Direct Student Loan (FDSL) Program, the U.S. Department of Education provides and guarantee the funds for your loan. First year students are eligible for loans up to $3,500 per award year. Amounts increase for subsequent years of study, with higher amounts for graduate students. The interest rate is variable, but never exceeds 6.8 percent. If you qualify (based on need) for a subsidized loan, the government will pay the interest on your loan while you are in school, during grace periods, and during any deferment periods. You are responsible for paying all the interest that accrues on an unsubsidized loan, but it may be amortized (added to your loan balance and paid later). Some certificate and diploma program students may be awarded reduced loans due to shorter programs of study.

Parent PLUS Loans: Parent PLUS loans are unsubsidized loans made to parents. If you are independent or your parents cannot get a PLUS loan, you are eligible to borrow additional Stafford Loan funds. The interest rate is variable, but never exceeds 8.5 percent.

Graduate PLUS Loans: Graduate PLUS Loans are additional loans available to students in graduate and professional programs as well as those who have completed the third year of a combined BA/MA program. The student can receive Graduate PLUS Loans up to the Cost of Attendance (minus any other educational aid resources). The interest rate is variable, but never exceeds 8.5 percent.

How can I check on the status of my financial aid?

Login to the VFAO site and choose the "Interviews" section. There will be a link on this page where you may view your financial aid status.

Why is my request for financial aid delayed?

 Some of the reasons that your request for financial aid may be delayed include but are not limited to:

  1. The U.S. Department of Education may have selected your request for federal student aid for a process called “verification.” You can determine if you were selected for verification by reviewing your Student Aid Report (SAR), which you received when you completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  2. There were conflicting data on your FAFSA.
  3. If you were selected for verification by the U.S. Department of Education, you were contacted by the VFAO and the necessary clarifying information was requested. If you have not responded to this request for the data required by the U.S. Department of Education in order to complete a request for federal student aid, then your financial aid will continue to be delayed. Neither the VFAO nor your institution can make any provision that excuses you from your obligation to produce the requested information if you still wish to receive Federal Student Assistance.
How is my financial aid eligibility calculated?

In accordance with the provisions of Title IV of the Higher Education Act and the U.S. Department of Education’s Rules and Regulations as set forth in the Federal Student Aid Handbook.

Why do I have to complete the FAFSA before I complete a financial aid interview?

 In order to complete a financial aid interview, you will need an EFC (Expected Family Contribution). The only place where you can receive a valid and current EFC is by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Why is the VFAO sending email notifications instead of letters via postal mail when communicating with a student?

Email notification is a faster and more secure method of communicating with the student than postal mail, which could potentially delay the processing of aid when the VFAO must communicate the student.

Where do I sign my Master Promissory Note (MPN)?

You can sign your Master Promissory Note (MPN) by visiting the StudentLoans.gov website.

What makes me a dependent or independent student?
If you can answer “YES” to any of the following questions, then you are considered an independent student. If you answer “NO” to all of the following questions, then you are considered a dependent student.
  • For the 2010-2011 Award Year: Were you born before 1/1/1987?
  • For the 2011-2012 Award Year: Were you born before 1/1/1988?
  • Are you enrolling in a Master’s degree or Doctoral program?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have any children to support?
  • Do you have any dependents other than children or a spouse?
  • Are you an orphan or ward of the Court?
  • Are you a Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces?
When does the school issue a refund check?

Each institution is required to follow both the Federal Return of Title IV Funds Policy and the institution’s refund policy. Determination of when a refund is due is made by the institution. Therefore, you should contact your institution’s campus financial aid administrator.

Will my Pell Grant be reduced if I drop classes?

If your financial aid has been awarded and paid prior to your dropping a class, the Pell Grant will normally not be reduced. If the financial aid department learns of the reduction prior to awarding aid, the Pell Grant may be reduced.

Why was I selected for verification?
  • Every year the U.S. Department of Education randomly selects at least 30% of all applications for federal student assistance for verification
  • If there were conflicting data on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), then you were selected for verification.
I have completed the Financial Aid Interview. What happens next?
First, the VFAO will request that the institution confirm the student’s actual or expected matriculation at the institution. Once your matriculation at the institution has been confirmed, your request for Federal Student Assistance will be processed in accordance with the guidelines set forth in the U.S. Department of Education’s Financial Aid Handbook. Then, your financial aid interview and the results (ISIR) of your FAFSA will be reviewed by the VFAO team. If there are errors or if the U.S. Department of Education requires additional information, the VFAO will contact you in order to collect this additional information.

Please rest assured that the VFAO and the school does not and will not make up additional rules to make the financial aid process more burdensome for you. All financial aid is processed in accordance with established Federal and Institutional guidelines.
Financial Aid Interview Questions

How can I ask for loans for a financial aid interview that I’ve submitted for processing in which I requested “Grants only”?

Please fill out an Additional Funds Form. You can find a link to this form on the VFAO site in the main menu. Put your cursor on the "Forms and Documents" link, then choose "Additional Funds" from the drop-down menu.

Why can't I add a term on the additional funds form?

The only terms available to you on the online additional funds form are those that you have designated in prior Financial Aid Interviews.  If you have decided to attend your school for a term of study that you have not designated on a previous interview, you will need to complete another financial aid interview.  If the VFAO does not have an interview on file that designates the term(s) for which you plan to attend, the VFAO cannot and will not process your aid request for that term.  Given that you have completed a prior financial aid interview, completing an additional interview should take only a few minutes.

Why is the estimated financial plan that I received at the end of the interview only an estimate?

Upon reviewing your financial aid documents, certain items and issues that affect your financial aid eligibility may be discovered. Therefore your actual financial aid eligibility may differ from the estimate obtained upon completing the financial aid interview.

If I quit my financial aid interview and come back later, will I have to start all over?

No you will not. The financial aid interview will save all of the data entered up to and including the last step completed in the interview. So if you have to leave in the middle of your financial aid interview, you can come back and start up right where you left off.

Is my VFAO password the same as my FAFSA PIN?

No. Your FAFSA PIN is not valid here. When you applied for your online membership at the VFAO, you provided your own set of secure login credentials. If you have forgotten your password, the VFAO site provides a "recover your password" feature from the login screen.

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