Understanding FAFSA Information

Once you have submitted the FAFSA and your information has been received by the school, we begin our work to assist with the financial aid process.  The information from the FAFSA informs the Office of Financial Aid on the next steps for each student.  Due to the unique nature of FAFSA data, every student can  have a slightly different experience.  Below we provide information about common terms you may hear during the financial aid process.  

Eligibility Criteria

Because the majority of funds awarded by Radford University are federal and state need based award programs and is governed by federal regulations.  In order to be considered eligible for these award programs you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen, as determined by the FAFSA
  • Have a valid Social Security Number, confirmed during FAFSA completion
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Must meet satisfactory academic progress standards (link to policy)
  • Have not exceeded the annual or aggregate federal loan limits
  • Cannot be in default on a student loan or owe an overpayment on a federal grant program at any institution
  • Must be enrolled in a degree seeking program
  • Must be enrolled at least half time in an approved program

Determining Dependent/Independent Status

When you apply for federal student aid, your answers to certain questions will determine whether you're considered dependent or independent for financial aid purposes.  Students are classified as dependent or independent because federal student aid programs are based on the idea that students (and their parents or spouse, if applicable) have the primary responsibility for paying for their postsecondary education.    

Dependent students are required to report their parent’s income and assets as well as their own

Independent and must report only their own income and assets (and those of their spouse, if they are married) 

To be considered an independent student you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • You were born before January 1, 2000 (for the 2023-2024 academic year)
  • You are married
  • You are enrolled in a program working on a Master's or Doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, or graduate certificate, etc.); 
  • You have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2024 (for the 2023-24 academic year)
  • You have children who receive more than half of their support from you
  • You are an orphan  or you were a ward/dependent of the court until age 18
  • You are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces that has served on active duty ("veteran" includes a student who attended a U.S. military academy who was released under a condition other than dishonorable). 

If you claim to be an independent student, we may ask you to submit proof before you can receive any federal student aid.

If you think you have unusual circumstances that would make you independent even though none of the above criteria apply to you, talk to your Financial Aid Counselor. Your counselor can review your circumstances and change your dependency status if it is warranted based on the documentation you provide.  But remember, the aid administrator won't automatically do this; extensive and verifiable information is required to complete this process. The decision is based on his or her judgment, and it's final--you can't appeal it to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Understanding EFC


EFC is your Expected Family Contribution - or the amount that it is estimated that your family can pay towards the cost of your education for the upcoming academic year. 


Your EFC is calculated by the Central Processing System (CPS) responsible for all FAFSA applications.  The CPS uses all the data submitted on the FAFSA to determine your EFC.  The formula is determined by federal legislation that takes into consideration family income, assets, the number of family members, etc.


Your EFC helps the Office of Financial Aid determine your eligibility for financial aid programs.  There are federal, state and institutional regulations and policies that govern what aid programs a student may be eligible for and many of these are goverened by EFC maximums.  When Radford receives your FAFSA with a valid EFC, we review your application and determine what award programs students are eligible for. 

Understanding Need

The goal of financial aid is to help students obtain funds to meet their "need".  Need is a calculation that is performed by the financial aid office.  Financial Aid determines an estimated cost of attendance based on your student status, we receive your EFC when your FAFSA is processed and need is merely the difference of the two figures.

For example:

A student's financial aid cost of attendance is $19,000
The student's EFC as determined from FAFSA is $4,500.
The student's need is $14,500 ($19,000-$4,500)

Common Financial Aid Terms

Financial Aid Counselors very quickly learn a new vocabulary when they begin reviewing and processing student applicants.  Here are some of the most frequently used terms and what they mean.

COA – Cost of Attendance

This is the estimated costs to attend school for one academic year.  It is made up of items that will be included on your bill (i.e. tuition, on campus room, on campus meal plan) and those expenses that you will not be billed for (i.e. books, personal expenses, travel)

EFC – Expected Family Contribution

Once your FAFSA is submitted and completed you will receive your EFC.  This number should not be taken literally, it is used by the Financial Aid Office to determine what aid programs you qualify for and how much you may receive from particular programs.


This is a calculation that takes your COA (cost of attendance) minus your EFC (expected family contribution), the result is your need, or the amount of additional funding that may need to be secured to pay your educational expenses

SAR – Student Aid Report

Your SAR summarizes the information you submit on your FAFSA and provides you with your EFC.


Verification is a process where Radford University confirms the data reported on your FAFSA.  Additional documentation is requested from students and parents for applications that are selected for verification.

Definitions above are modified but provided by the Department of Education Student Aid on the Web.

Understanding Verification

The federal government requires some students to verify the information reported on their FAFSA. Colleges are responsible for performing this verification and must do so before federal funds can be disbursed. Verification requirements apply to the following federal programs: Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Work Study (FWS) and Federal Direct Loans. Verification is also required for state and other need based aid programs.

The review of particular items, such as estimated tax information, number in household/ college, etc., will be requested and reviewed throughout the year.  Parents and students must return the items requested within 30 days to prevent delays in the application review process. 

When you "verify", you are telling the Financial Aid Office that the information you reported when you applied for financial aid is still true and correct. If you have misreported something on your FAFSA or if certain family circumstances have changed, you have the opportunity to tell your aid counselor and have corrections made to your financial aid application. 

Sometimes the corrections that need to be made can be done by the financial aid office, if this occurs, you should be aware that your Student Aid Report (SAR) may have to be returned to the processor for corrections.   If you have any questions on this process, please contact the Financial Aid Office. 

 In addition to the federal requirements, colleges have the right to verify information for all students who apply for financial aid, and deny funding to those students who refuse to submit the required documentation.