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Your Cheat Sheet for All Financial Aid Terms

August 25, 2020

FAFSA? Master Promissory Note? Subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans? If you’re lost already, you’ve come to the right place. Consider this brief lesson a prelude to all the studying you’ll have to do in college, and bookmark this as your handy cheat sheet.


Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a standard application used to determine eligibility for the majority of financial aid, including federal loans. You’ll have to fill out a new one each year that you apply for aid, even if you stay at the same school.

Alternative loan

Also called a Private Student Loan. Credit-based, financed through a financial lender with payments deferred until you finish school.

Award letter

Official document from secondary education’s financial aid office that informs you of all the financial aid being offered to you.


The process of combining all outstanding student loans into one, often with extended repayment terms. This loan is only available for those individuals who have completed school.

Dependent student

Any student who depends financially on their parents’ income and assets. Considered heavily in awarding financial aid to particular individuals.

Independent student

To be classified as independent, an individual must meet any one of the following criteria:

  • 24 years of age or older
  • Married
  • Have no living parent or legal guardian
  • Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • A ward of the court
  • Have a legal dependent (child)

Gift aid

Aid that students are not required to pay back, like grants and scholarships.

Lender code

Each financial institution has its own lender code used to indicate they are the ones funding your aid.

Master Promissory Note

A legally binding contract that includes all terms and conditions under which a borrower promises to repay a loan.

Subsidized loan

A federal loan in which the government pays the accruing interest while the student attends school at least half-time, as well as during the grace period and deferment times.

Unsubsidized loan

A federal loan not based on need. The borrower is responsible for paying the accrued interest at all times.

This content is for informational purposes only. Readers should under no circumstances rely upon this information as a substitute for their own research or for obtaining specific advice from their own counsel.