The college admissions and financial aid process are full of terminology that can be somewhat intimidating to families applying for the first time.

That’s why our Education Team put together the following financial aid glossary. These are the terms you’ll often see when applying for colleges and applying for financial aid.

Take a few minutes to get to know these terms – The application process will be easier and quicker as a result.



Cost of Attendance (COA) – The overall cost of attendance at a school including tuition, fees and an estimate of living expenses. Each school determines its COA by using federal regulations.


College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile – The CSS Profile is a comprehensive report of a students’ family financial information. It allows colleges to determine which prospective students have the most need for financial assistance. Many private colleges require all applicants to complete a CSS Profile.


Data Release Number (DRN) – The DRN is a number assigned to your Federal Student Aid application. It is also listed on your Student Aid Report and your confirmation page. The DRN is provided to you as a password to allow changes to be made to your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – The EFC is the amount of money that students and their parents can be expected to pay toward the cost of college. A student’s need for assistance is established by subtracting EFC from the total cost of attendance (COA).


Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – FAFSA is exactly what it stands for, a free application for federal student aid. The application is the number one most important document to secure financial aid. Within the FAFSA are many of the terms this glossary defines.


Grant – A grant is financial aid that is not repaid by the student. It is often awarded based on financial need or merit.


Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) – IDOC is a service by the College Board that colleges use to collect information such as federal tax returns of students and their families.


Needs Analysis Process – After you complete your FAFSA, a needs analysis is performed to determine how much aid an applicant is eligible to receive.


Personal Identification Number (PIN) – You must get a PIN ( to apply online for federal financial aid and access your federal student aid records. Your PIN is considered your signature when you apply online for federal aid.


Promissory Note – The promissory note is the legal document that lays out the terms and conditions (i.e. interest rate, length of loan) for an education loan.

Student Aid Report (SAR) – You receive your student aid report after the completion of FAFSA. It details your eligibility for financial aid.


Pell Grant – Pell grants range from about $500 to $5,500 and are awarded to undergraduate students seeking their first baccalaureate degree. Typically, higher grant amounts are awarded to students who are enrolled full-time.


Perkins Loan – These loans are awarded based on financial need and are awarded to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at least half-time.


Subsidized Loan – Subsidized loans are loans by which the government pays the interest while the student is enrolled and for six months after the student leaves school. Interest is also paid by the government during periods of deferment. Subsidized loans are awarded based on financial need. Perkins loans are subsidized loans.


Unsubsidized Loan – Unsubsidized loans are loans in which the government does not pay interest. Payments do not begin until six months after graduation or six months after the student drops under the half-time enrollment threshold. These loans are not based on financial need.