Columbia Financial Aid and Educational Financing

Frequently Asked Questions

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In addition to these frequently asked questions, we encourage you to explore our website to learn more about our financial aid policies and how you can apply for aid. We are here to work with you and your family in developing a plan to pay for college at Columbia University. Students and parents may review available financing options. Financial Aid Officers are also here to answer any questions prospective, newly admitted, or current students/parents may have.

Will my financial aid eligibility be the same all four years?

Students and families are asked to submit a financial aid application in each year the student attends. In general, if the family’s income and asset levels remain steady, the Parent Contribution (PC) will as well. Some common causes for change in future financial aid awards include:

  • Change in the number of students in the household enrolled in an undergraduate program
  • Changes to household income or assets
What if I can’t provide the noncustodial parent information for the financial aid application?

Columbia's policy views financial aid as a partnership between the student, the biological or adoptive parents, and the school. While the application process has requirements for the student and both parents, we recognize that certain circumstances can prevent the completion of a financial aid application.

If you are not in contact with your noncustodial parent or have circumstances that would make obtaining the noncustodial information impossible, you can submit a petition to waive the noncustodial parent requirements. If you feel that you will be unable to complete this component of the financial aid application please complete the Noncustodial Parent Waiver Petition then fax to (212) 854-5353.

When will I be unable to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?

You will be unable to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool if you have indicated that you have not yet filed or will not file a federal tax return; if you filed electronically within the last 3 weeks or through the mail within the last 11 weeks; if you filed a foreign or Puerto Rican tax return; if you filed a tax return using an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN); or if you indicated on the FAFSA that you are married but filed separately from your spouse (Married, Filing Separately; or Head of Household).

What if my PLUS Loan application is denied based on adverse credit?

You may still be eligible to receive a PLUS loan. To become eligible you must either:

· Obtain an endorser.


· Document extenuating circumstances to the satisfaction of the U.S. Department of Education.

· In either situation, you will need to complete PLUS Credit Counseling, prior to becoming eligible for the PLUS loan.

Why would my PLUS loan application be denied?

Please review the Adverse Credit Conditions considered by the Department of Education on their FAQ page.

What if my parent does not have a Social Security Number?

Your parent will not be able to borrow a Federal Parent PLUS loan without a Social Security Number; please contact our office for additional financing options.

What is the difference between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans?

Interest on a Direct Subsidized Loan is paid by the U.S. Department of Education while you are in school at least half-time and during your six-month grace period after you leave school. If you are unsure about your eligibility, please contact our office.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans begin to accrue interest once the loan has disbursed to the student account.

Why can’t I see my own tax return information when transferring the data?

Your tax return information is not visible because of added security and privacy protections.

Can the school see the data that’s transferred from the IRS?

Yes. We will have access to the tax return information that is transferred via the IRS DRT and will follow up with you if we notice issues or need more information.

Can families who live outside of the United States use the Net Price Calculator Tool?

Our Net Price Calculator has been designed for families living in the US; therefore this calculator will not be able to provide an accurate estimate for students living abroad.

How do I use the calculator if my parents are divorced or separated?

Please input separate calculations with each parent’s information. The combination of the two results will be the total expected parent contribution. If either parent has remarried, your stepparent's information should also be provided. The calculated parental contribution will be based on both incomes; however, Columbia’s final calculation applies a proportional methodology to remarried parents.

Is the tool accurate for parents who are self-employed or own some/all of a business, corporation and/or partnership?

Please input your best estimates on the calculator, according to your percentage of ownership; we will refer to the most recently completed tax documentation at the time of application (Federal 1040 Schedule C and/or Schedule E; Federal 1120 or 1120-S Corporate Tax Returns; 1165 Partnership Tax Returns; K-1s) to confirm actual business income and value.

How does the Net Price Calculator make allowances for families with more than one student in college?

If your family will have more than one student enrolled in college (for the year in which you will enroll), our calculator assumes that the additional student will be enrolled in a four-year private undergraduate college/university. For siblings enrolled in other types of undergraduate institutions (four-year public, two-year/community college, etc.), Columbia will adjust the Parent Contribution accordingly. Columbia does not include graduate sibling's expenses in our need-based evaluation.

How does QuestBridge work at Columbia?

QuestBridge is a non-profit organization which identifies high-achieving, low-income students, assists them with the college search and application process and works to connect them to educational opportunities at a range of partner colleges and universities.

Columbia has been a QuestBridge partner school for more than 15 years, and we are proud to have matched with more than 400 scholars.

Does Columbia match financial aid packages from other schools?

If the student receives a need-based offer with a different interpretation of the family’s financial circumstances, please fax us a copy of the offer, along with any additional pertinent information. Our office will review your request for reconsideration to determine if a change is appropriate. Please note that we will not review any merit-based awards.

How do I report my family’s special circumstances?

Additional information you would like us to review with your application can be reported in the Explanations section of the CSS Profile. You can also contact us at with an explanation of your individual circumstances. A financial aid officer will review the information and reach out to you with any needed follow-up.

Do I have to maintain a minimum GPA?

There is no minimum GPA requirement to qualify for financial aid. However, the student must be maintaining satisfactory academic progress towards a Columbia degree and enrolled full-time.

How do I track my financial aid application?

Columbia's Online Financial Aid System is available during specific windows of time for each application cycle. The following site contains the link to the tracking page, as well as the dates when it is available:

Forms and documents will not appear immediately following submission on the Online Financial Aid System; please allow for processing time of at least 3-5 business days (and 5-8 business days for documents submitted to IDOC).

What will my bill look like?

Your financial aid award is separate from your bill. The financial aid budget includes billed items (such as tuition & fees, housing and meal plan) and unbilled items (such as books, and personal expenses), which will not appear on the bill. Your Estimated Family Contribution (Parent Contribution plus Student Contribution) will not match your bill dollar for dollar.

Additional information about the E-Billing process is sent students during the summer. The Fall semester E-Bill will be sent to students and authorized payers in mid-August and is due in early September.

For an estimate of what your bill will look like, please utilize our Bill Estimator Tool (available in July).

Should I apply Early Decision or Regular Decision?

Early Decision is a binding process where students commit to attend Columbia should they be admitted. Students applying through the Early Decision process ought to be confident that Columbia is their desired school of choice. If the student and family feel that financial aid will be a significant factor in whether or not the student can attend, we strongly recommend the family researches the financial aid process prior to applying, and consider applying Regular Decision in order to preserve the option of comparing financial aid decisions from multiple schools.

Please use the Net Price Calculator at Columbia and other preferred schools to estimate your financial aid eligibility, and speak with a financial aid officer to discuss any questions you may have.