Financial Aid Process for New Students
This video is an overview of Penn State's financial aid process and is shown to first-year students and their families during New Student Orientation.
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Congratulations Erin, You’ve made it to Penn State! We’re excited to have you here. We know navigating financial aid can be stressful, but at Penn State, it doesn’t have to be.
Student – “I’d really like to know how I can get free money.”
Scholarships and grants are “free money” sources that do not need to be paid back. You can apply for outside scholarships on our Facebook, [Instagram] and Twitter pages. Don’t forget to check the national search engines like Collegeboard.org and Fastweb.com for additional scholarship opportunities. You can visit studentaid.psu.edu to view scholarship opportunities offered through your academic college. Filling out the FAFSA will determine your eligibility for need-based grants and scholarships.
MPN and LEC:
Student; “So what happens now that my FAFSA is done?”
Since you’ve completed and submitted your FAFSA, you should have received an electronic Award Summary.
If you have not accepted your loans yet, you can log in to LionPATH, select the Accept/Decline option, and follow the instructions to complete this step. Accepting or declining aid affects your aid total for both the fall and spring semesters. Keep in mind; you do NOT need to accept grants and scholarships. Pennsylvania residents who receive the PA State Grant should visit pheaa.org to ensure that the PA State Grant agency has everything they need to post an individual grant.
However, even if you have received and finalized your aid package, you PROBABLY still need to complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN) and Entrance Counseling on studentaid.gov.
Student – “Do I really need to do that?”
If you want your Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans to disburse, you do. Every first-year student who fills out a FAFSA and meets eligibility requirements will receive a combination of Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans that total $5,500 for that first year. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while the student is enrolled for at least 6 credits, but unsubsidized loans do. Your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, as determined by the FAFSA will dictate whether you receive a combination of Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans or only Unsubsidized Loans. Since your EFC determines which loan type you receive, the Office of Student Aid cannot negotiate your aid package.
Student; “What if I still need help covering the bill?”
If you still need money to cover your bill after your aid has been applied. You can add the estimated billable and non-billable costs in your Award Summary together to find your Cost of Attendance. Your Cost of Attendance, minus your federal aid, is the maximum amount of funds you can borrow in an additional loan. You can also find cost information here: . You and your family can take out additional loans to cover the balance on your bill, also known as your Student Account Statement, as well as to cover non-billable educational expenses. We know what you’re thinking:
Student – “Wait, how do I even GET a loan? Where do I go? When do I apply?”
Don’t worry, we have answers to all of your loan questions. First, you and your family need to decide if you would prefer to use a Parent PLUS Loan or a Private Alternative Loan. Parent PLUS Loans are borrowed by the parent, while private alternative loans, also known as bank and credit union loans, are in the student’s name and require a credit-worthy cosigner. You can borrow what you need to cover your Student Account Statement and additional educational expenses each semester, but we recommend you borrow a loan to cover both fall and spring semesters together. Please note, although you can allow the PLUS application to calculate a total for you, we recommend only borrowing what you need to cover your bill and expenses. Allowing the application to calculate your total for you may result in a larger loan than you want.
Parent PLUS Loans are available on studentaid.gov, while private alternative loans are available through the private lender of your choosing. Parent PLUS Loans take 7-10 days to process, while private alternative loans take up to two and half weeks to process.
Student– “How will I know how much to borrow if I don’t have my Student Account Statement?”
If you wish to borrow a loan using tuition estimates, you can use the estimated billable and non-billable expenses on your Award Summary. You can visit studientaid.psu.edu to view tutorials about both loan types.
The Federal Government can ask students and families to verify information submitted on the FAFSA. You will know if you have been selected to complete verification by checking your To-Do List on LionPATH. The Office of Student Aid may request tax documents, proof of earnings, or household information, among other items. Even if you submitted this information on the FAFSA, you will still need to comply with verification. Be sure to complete verification as soon as possible.
Student – “And what happens if I don’t complete it?”
If you ignore verification, your federal aid will not disburse. If you are selected for verification after your aid has disbursed, and you do not comply with that request for information, your aid could be returned, and you would owe money to the university.
Student – “Got it. How do I turn in my verification information to the Office of Student Aid?”
You can upload the information on our website, or you can fax, mail, or drop off the documents. Verification submission instructions will appear in the To Do List in LionPATH. If students grant parents Delegated Access, parents will also be able to view To Do List items. Please note, students must manually select the type of access they wish to give.
Student- Is there anything else that can prevent my aid from disbursing?
Yes. It is really important for you to understand Penn State’s Satisfactory Academic Progress Standards, also known as SAP.
Student –“SAP? That sounds like a STICKY situation. Sorry, tell me more.”
SAP requires that students meet three standards: Completion Rate – which means you have to pass and finish 67% of the classes you start, GPA – meaning your grade point average must be above a 2.0, and Max Time Frame – which means you need to finish your degree in your allotted time. Failing to meet any of these standards can result in a loss of federal aid. If you ever find yourself in this “sticky” situation, please contact the Office of Student Aid regarding our appeals process.
Also, just so you know, we CANNOT discuss SAP issues with anyone except the student. Even if you are the parent paying the bill, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) prevents the Office of Student Aid from sharing any SAP Information without the student present. If a parent does contact our office about a SAP issue, they will be directed to have their student call or visit the office.
Student – “This is great information. Anything else I should know?”
CHECK YOUR PENN STATE EMAILS! Sorry, but it is so important to keep up to speed with your university correspondence. Many offices at Penn State, including the Office of Student Aid, use your assigned university email address to communicate with you. This is the email we will use to reach out about aid, verification, and anything else you would need to know. Ignoring university emails could literally cost you thousands of dollars.
Student; “Wow, there’s a lot of information to know about this, I don’t want to miss anything.”
It is a lot, but don’t worry here’s a reminder of our timeline and steps.
- Accept your loans in LionPATH
- Complete your Master Promissory Note and Entrance Counseling for your federal loans on studentaid.gov
- Watch for Student Account Statements and Due Dates
- Apply for a Parent PLUS Loan or Private Alternative Loan
Remember, before you get started with this timeline; be sure to check your To Do List for Verification items.
Student; ”All right, thanks, I guess it’s not as complicated as I thought.”
College is an investment in your future. The Office of Student Aid at Penn state is here to guide you through the financial part of that investment. If you have any questions about any of the important topics discussed today, you can visit the Office of Student Aid in person. You can also email or call our office. Our contact information is available on studentaid.psu.edu.
Student: “Awesome! I think I have everything I need now!”
Wonderful! Just remember, if you do have financial aid questions, we are here to help. Welcome to Penn State!