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Financial Aid Questions

Questions And Answers

Am I dependent or independent?

Your answers to questions on the FAFSA determine whether you are considered a dependent or independent student. The questions change a little from one year's FAFSA to the next year's; for instance, the 2015-2016 FAFSA asks whether you were born before Jan. 1, 1992, while the 2016-2017 FAFSA asks whether you were born before Jan. 1, 1993. Here are the questions that determine your dependency status, first in a graphic format and then (for 2016-17 specifically) in a table:


All applicants for federal student aid are considered either "independent" or "dependent." Dependent students are required to include information about their parents on the FAFSA. By answering a few questions, you can get a good idea of which category you fit into.

  • Will you be 24 or older by Dec. 31 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid?
  • Will you be working toward a master's or doctorate degree (such as M.A., M.B.A., M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc.)?
  • Are you married or separated but not divorced?
  • Do you have children who receive more than half of their support from you?
  • Do you have dependents (other than children or a spouse) who live with you and receive more than half of their support from you?
  • At any time since you turned age 13, were both of your parents deceaced, were you in foster care, or were you a ward of dependent of the court?
  • Are you an emancipated minor or are you in a legal guardianship as determined by a court?
  • Are you an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?

If none of the criteria listed above apply to you, you may be considered a dependent student and may be required to provide your parents' financial information when completing the FAFSA. If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be an independent student. You may not be required to provide parental information on your FAFSA.

If you have questions about your dependency status or need more information, please visit

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I received a Renewal Reminder from the U.S. Department of Education. What should I do next?

If you receive a Renewal Reminder, it means you are eligible to reapply for financial aid in the new academic year via FAFSA on the Web, and you will have the option of “pre-filling” your application with data you provided for the previous year.  Contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend if there are any questions.

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Who gets federal student aid?

Our most basic eligibility requirements are that you must:

  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Register (if you haven’t already) with Selective Service, if you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 25
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in postsecondary school
  • Show you’re qualified to obtain a postsecondary education

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Do I have to reapply for financial aid every year?

Yes.  Most financial aid offices require that you apply for financial aid every year.  If your financial circumstances change, you may get more or less aid.  After your first year you will receive a “Renewal Application” which contains preprinted information from the previous year’s FAFSA. 

Note that your eligibility for financial aid may change significantly, especially if you have a different number of family members in college.  Renewal of your financial aid package also depends on your making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree, such as earning a minimum number of credits and achieving a minimum GPA.

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How do I apply for a Pell Grant and other types of need-based aid?

Submit a FAFSA.  To indicate interest in student employment, student loans and parent loans, you should check the appropriate boxes.  Checking these boxes does not commit you to accepting these types of aid.  You will have the opportunity to accept or decline each part of your aid package later.  Leaving these boxes unchecked will not increase the amount of grants you receive.

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If I take a leave of absence, do I have to start repaying my loans?

Not immediately.  The subsidized Stafford loan has a grace period of 6 months before the student must begin repaying the loan.  When you take a leave of absence you will not have to repay your loan until the grace period is used up.  If you use up the grace period, however, when you graduate you will have to begin repaying your loan immediately.

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I got an outside scholarship. Should I report it to the financial aid office?

Yes.  If you are receiving any kind of financial aid from university or government sources, you must report the scholarship to the financial aid office.

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Where can I get information about Federal student financial aid?

Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-800-730-8913 (if hearing impaired) and ask for a free copy of The Student Guide: Financial Aid from the US Department of Education.  This toll free hotline is run by the US Department of Education and can answer questions about federal and state student aid programs and applications. 

You can also write to:

Federal Student Aid Information Center
PO Box 84
Washington, DC 20044

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Where can I get a copy of the FAFSA?

By calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.  The online version of the form is available at

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How soon after January 1 should the FAFSA form be sent in? Is it better to wait until the income tax forms have been completed?

Send in the form as soon as possible after January 1.  Do not wait until your taxes are done.  Although it is better to do your taxes early, it is ok to use estimates of your income, so long as they aren’t very far off from the actual values.  You will have an opportunity to correct any errors later.  If you wait too long, you might miss the deadline for state aid.  Most states require the FAFSA to be submitted by March 1, and some even as early as mid-February.

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I sent in my FAFSA over four weeks ago but haven’t heard anything. What should I do?

If you haven’t received a Student Aid Report (SAR), call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (toll free) or 1-319-337-5665.  To find out whether your FAFSA has been processed or to request a duplicate copy of your SAR you must provide them with your Social Security number and date of birth as verification.  You can also write to:

Federal Student Aid Programs
PO Box 4038
Washington, DC 52243-4038

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What if I have unusual circumstances concerning my dependency or financial status? Will this change my EFC?

The formula used to establish a student’s financial aid eligibility is the same for all students; however, in unique situations, the financial aid office may use professional judgment to adjust the formula.  These situations may include such things as job loss, unusual medical expenses, or abuse.  If you believe that you have a unique situation, please contact financial aid for further guidance.

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What happens when I have a credit balance from financial aid?

You will be notified by our Business Office regarding any credit balances on your account. Please see the Credit Balance and Refund page for information on policy and procedures for credit balances.

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How can I determine if I am making Satisfactory Academic Progress?

Satisfactory Academic Progress is calculated at the end of each term. Each degree level has its own criteria of Satisfactory Academic Progress components. Please see Satisfactory Academic Progress page for more information.

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What happens to my Title IV funds if I withdraw during the semester?

The school will determine the amount of aid you have earned based on your withdrawal date and credit your account accordingly. This process is called the Federal Return of Title IV (R2T4) policy. Please see the Federal Refund Policy Return of Title IV (R2T4) at the bottom of this page of our website for more detailed information.

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VanderCook College of Music

3140 South Federal Street
Chicago, IL 60616-3731
(312) 225-6288

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