Financial Aid Dictionary

Navigating the realm of financial aid often feels like learning a new language, with its own unique terminology and jargon. From acronyms like FAFSA and SAI to terms like subsidized loans and Pell Grants, understanding these concepts is crucial for students and families seeking assistance to fund higher education. This financial aid dictionary serves as a guide, offering clear definitions and explanations for the myriad terms and phrases encountered throughout the financial aid process.

Cost of Attendance (COA)

The estimated amount it may cost a student to live during the time they attend Central in an academic year. Central uses the COA to determine a student's need for federal aid eligibility.

The COA is calculated based on factors such as:

  • Enrollment length (year, 1 semester, etc)
  • Program (undergraduate, graduate)
  • Campus attending
  • Enrollment status (hours enrolled)
  • Housing situation

The COA looks at all costs, beyond what the student finds on their school bill. It may include:

  • Tuition & fees
  • Books & supplies
  • Housing & food
  • Transportation
  • Miscellaneous living expenses
  • Dependent care
  • Disability costs

Central publishes base COAs for an average full-time student at each of our campuses and in each of our programs. You can view them here. You can view the COA used in your aid offer in our SIS or request it from the Financial Aid Office.


Your dependency status determines whose information you must report when you fill out the FAFSA. Dependent students must include their parent's tax information on their FAFSA. Read more at to determine your dependency.


The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Learn more here.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is money to help pay for college or career school. Grants, work-study, loans, and scholarships help make college or career school affordable. Check our Scholarships and Find More Aid pages to learn more.

Financial Aid Offer (FAO)

Central sends each student a letter that lists all aid the student has received and is eligible for during the academic year. The FAO is specific to the student based on what is known at the time it is packaged. It may change based on:

  • The campus they attend
  • Their grade level
  • Their enrollment
  • Their housing
  • Other aid they receive


Your dependency status determines whose information you must report when you fill out the FAFSA. Independent students do not need to include their parents' tax information on their FAFSA, and they have higher annual limits for federal loans. Read more at to determine your dependency.


The Student Aid Index (SAI) is a formula-based index number ranging from –1500 to 999999 that helps the school determine how much financial support a student may need. Learn more at


Simply, verification means that the Financial Aid Office must verify a student's information. A FAFSA is chosen for verification by the Department of Education to be reviewed by the Financial Aid Office in order to determine the accuracy of the information provided by the student, parents and spouse (as is applicable) on the FAFSA. This is done by requesting financial and demographic information about the student’s household from the student and parents (as is applicable). If a student is selected for verification, the Financial Aid Office will notify them and provide instructions on next steps.

Professional Judgment

The process by which the Financial Aid Office can make adjustments to the data elements on the FAFSA.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)


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