Financial Aid for College

The Step-By-Step Process for Applying for Financial Aid

Use the Net Price Calculators provided by Colleges and Universities.  The College Board provides access to many (here).  While some are better than others, we anticipate that the FAFSA’s availability in October (starting 10/1/2016) will lead to increasingly better Net Price Calculators. (The College Board’s Net Price Calculator will let you create an account, enter, and save information so that you may compare potential awards as part of the search process and in advance of applying).

From an introduction to Financial Aid to comparing awards, Big Future, from The College Board, is an exceptional resource.

Step 1 - Use the Net Price Calculators

Step 2 - Apply and Attend to Deadlines

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.

Step 3 - Complete the FAFSA (Opens October 1)

Complete a FAFSA Form (Free Application for Federal Financial Aid) on-line in October at www.fafsa.ed.gov.  You must obtain a FSA ID number. (You should apply for a pin number before you apply for financial aid online at https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm 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, the on-line forms are not available until October 1.

  • All colleges and universities will require the FAFSA (except Hillsdale College and Grove City College).
  • The FAFSA operates on your Prior Prior Year (PPY) of tax returns. 
  • Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) you may automatically complete most of your FAFSA quickly by drawing from your previously filed taxes (PPY – means if a student is graduating in June of 2017, the FAFSA will draw upon your 2015 tax return). 
  • You will not be submitting your most recent (matriculation year minus 1) tax information through the FAFSA. 
  • Should there have been a material change in your circumstances (for example, divorce or loss of employment), you will need to modify your approach accordingly. 
  • According to currently available information, once complete families should expect their Student Aid Report (SAR) with their Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) within 72 hours.

Step 4 - Complete the CSS Profile (for Most Colleges/Universities - Opens October 1)

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 www.collegeboard.com for more complete information. The CSS Profile goes live on October 1 and should be completed as soon as practical (based upon past years, before 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.

Step 5 - Check for and Complete any Ccollege/University Specific Forms

However, some schools may require thee (3) forms:

  1. FAFSA,
  2. CSS Profile (most private and many public), and
  3. College/University school specific form (may be required).

Make sure you verify each colleges/universities requirements.  Be sure to complete all forms sent to you and return them on time.

Step 6 - Review Your Student Aid Report

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 should be available within 72 hours of your on-line submission of a complete FAFSA.  Please read the directions carefully and make sure to check all of your figures before submission.

Step 7 - Get to Know the Financial Aid Offices

Colleges and universities will start to send Financial Aid Packages out as they are ready, increasingly in line with Early or Regular Offers of Admission, although some will arrive 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.

Step 8 - Be Prepared for Verification

Financial aid can be subject to verification. Verification requires that you and your parents complete an additional step, including submitting copies of tax forms to the financial aid office at your school.

Always make copies and sign all forms that are sent.

Step 9 - Compare Apples to Apples

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. 

Tips to Improve the Financial Aid Recipe

Complete and submit all forms as soon as possible.  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.

Be 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.

Information from start to finish:

Big Future - Paying For College, from the College Board


The Forms and Applications for Financial Aid:

FAFSA is available to complete starting on October 1.

CSS Profile is available to complete starting on October 1.

For more information: