Financial Aid for College

Step-By-Step Recipe for Applying for Financial Aid
Tips to Improve the Financial Aid Recipe
Common Financial Aid Terms and Acronyms



  1. Apply for admission to the colleges/universities of your choice. "Financial Aid Award Letters" will only be sent to admitted students. Ask each college/university what their financial aid deadline is since this will be different from school to school. Make sure your financial aid applications meet each deadline for best consideration.

  2. Complete a FAFSA Form (Free Application for Federal Financial Aid) in January or the beginning of February (as close to Feb 1st as possible). These forms can be obtained from your guidance office, public libraries, and colleges/universities or can be completed online at If you plan to apply online, you must obtain a pin number. (You should apply for a pin number before you apply for financial aid online at and it can be applied for early in the fall of your senior year). Remember that federal financial aid is distributed on a first come, first serve basis. However, while it is important to start the process early, forms cannot be submitted or dated prior to January 1st of the year you plan to attend college. All colleges and universities will require the FAFSA (except Hillsdale College and Grove City College). You should fill out this form while you are filling out your income tax forms, as they will require the same information. Parents and students should have their income taxes done as close to February 1st as possible. Income information for both the parent and the student is required in order to fill out the FAFSA. However, if this cannot be achieved estimated income may be used to complete the FAFSA.

  3. Some colleges and universities will not only require the FAFSA but will also want the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile. You should speak with your guidance counselor to get detailed information or go online at for more complete information. This form should be completed no later than early February. This form may be required to be submitted even earlier if the student is applying ED/EA. You must check this information individually with the college or university. The FAFSA is used to disperse federal money while the Profile is usually used to distribute institutional funds.

  4. However, some schools may require 3 forms: the FAFSA, the Profile and a form particular to that college/university. Please call or look online to see if the colleges/universities you have applied to also require this 3rd form. Be sure to complete all forms sent to you and return them on time.

  5. When these forms are completed your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) will be determined. This is the amount that the federal government has determined that families (parent(s) and student) can afford to contribute to your education for that year. Your SAR (Student Aid Report) containing your EFC will arrive 2-3 weeks after you have completed a paper FAFSA. If you are able to do this process online you will receive your results either immediately upon completion or within one week. Please read the directions carefully and make sure to check all of your figures before submission.

  6. Colleges and universities will start to send Financial Aid Packages out in early March to Mid-April. Often these packages will arrive with the offer of admission to a particular college or university and some will be separately. Each college/university does this somewhat differently. Get to know the financial aid office at the schools to which you apply. Check each school to determine how they handle this process. Read through each package carefully and contact the financial aid office at each school immediately if you have questions or concerns about your financial aid package. Also consult with your high school counselor.

  7. Financial aid can be subject to verification. Verification requires that you and your parents submit copies of your tax forms for the previous year to the financial aid office at your school. There is also a verification worksheet that must also be completed and returned with these tax forms. Always make copies and sign all forms that are sent.

  8. A Financial Aid Package is a combination of many different types of financial aid combined in order to best meet your financial need. Packages can include a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and/or work-study. Every school will package financial aid a little differently so you must be educated on the different forms of aid. Remember grants, scholarships and work-study do not have to be paid back but loans do.

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DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!!!!! You do not want to be applying to college at the same time you are working on the financial aid process -start as early as possible and both processes will be much easier and more productive.


Make sure you get a name to ask for in the financial aid office and admissions office (always get a business card)-this can often help connect you to individuals who are making decisions that will affect your financial aid package.


Get Organized - This is the key to success, not only in applying for financial aid office - they are a wealth of knowledge, but you need to ask questions- counselors cannot read your mind!!!!


Work with your high school's guidance office and college admissions/financial aid office- they are a wealth of knowledge, but you need to ask questions- counselors cannot read you mind!


Apply for every scholarship you qualify for. Remember that you need to take an active role in the college application process. Also, contact each college/university you apply to and ask for a listing of scholarships available at a particular school.


Students who apply for Early Decision/Early Action must check with the college/university to see if they must fill out the Profile during this early process.


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Academic Year/Award Year: Period of time for which financial aid is awarded. The most common academic year includes fall and spring semesters.


EFC (Expected Family Contribution): The amount the family is expected to contribute to the student's education. Based on information on parent/student income, assets and resources collected on the FAFSA and put through the federal need analysis methodology.


FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Aid): Standard application that student and parents must use to apply for all types of federal financial aid.


Financial Aid Award Letter: Statement of financial aid sent to a student notifying them of their award package. It can include, Grants, Scholarships, Work Study and Loans.


Financial Need: The difference between estimated cost of attendance (fees, tuition, room and board, personal expenses) and estimated family contribution (determined by FAFSA formula).


Grant:  Financial aid awarded that does not have to be paid back (Federal Pell Grant is an example). Most grants are based on financial aid.


Loan:  A sum of money that is borrowed and must be paid back. In terms of financial aid usually a Federal Stafford subsidized or unsubsidized or a PLUS Loan.


NSLDS (National Student Loan Data System): Federal database that tracks student loans, enrollment and federal Pell Grants. (


PLUS (Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate): Non-need based loan for students and parents. The parent may borrow up to the cost of education minus any other aid awarded to the student. The interest rate percentage is capped at 9%.


Preliminary Award Letter: Early notification normally sent to admitted students with an estimate of possible financial aid available to them.


CSS PROFILE: Financial Aid Form processed by the College Scholarship Service (CSS). The Profile is a need analysis form used to award institutional aid (funds available from individual colleges and universities) only. There is a cost associated with this process ad it is usually a tool used by private institutions. You must check with each individual university to see if they require this financial form.


SAR (Student Aid Report): The report mailed to parents that will indicate the EFC as a result of information compiled on the FAFSA.


Scholarship: A financial award based on merit or financial need that does not have to be paid back. Students often qualify for scholarships based on their abilities or special talents


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