Federal student loans, sometimes called Direct Loans, Stafford Loans, or Perkins Loans, can be used to pay for education-related expenses. These expenses are included in your school’s published cost of attendance (COA), often referred to as a student budget.
When you sign the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you agree to use the federal and/or state financial aid you receive to “pay the cost of attending an institution of higher education.”
The cost of attendance, defined in the Higher Education Act of 1965, includes:
Room and board costs can include one of four allowances, depending on where you live:
If you are enrolled less than half-time, your room and board allowances may be limited.
Your school determines how much to allow for each expense. However, if you can document higher costs than specified in the allowances, you can appeal to your school for a possible adjustment to the cost of attendance.
For example, you should keep receipts for all of your textbooks and supplies. If your actual costs are higher than what your school estimated, ask the financial aid office to increase the textbook and supplies allowance.
Some colleges don’t include certain allowances in the cost of attendance, but will add them if you document the expenses and make a formal request. Dependent care expenses, disability-related expenses, and the cost of a computer and software sometimes fall into this category.
Some colleges limit the purchase of a computer to just once during your educational program, unless there are extenuating circumstances (for example: theft, destroyed in a natural disaster, etc.). Many colleges will want to see a paid invoice for the purchase of a computer before they will add the expense to your cost of attendance. Colleges may increase the cost of attendance to cover the cost of required software, including operating system updates.
Your school might include a required health fee in the cost of attendance. It may not be clear if health insurance can be included in the cost of attendance. The cost of attendance for some colleges will include the cost of student health insurance, if it’s required by the school. Others do not. You should also ask your school if the cost of attendance can include ongoing medical expenses, such as expensive prescriptions.
If you have special circumstances, you should appeal to the college for an adjustment to your cost of attendance. Some colleges will make an adjustment to the cost of attendance to increase aid eligibility when your expected family contribution (EFC) is already zero.
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