The financial aid process begins by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The FAFSA requires information from both students and parents and can be done either online or on paper. All students should file a FAFSA; if for some reason you choose not to, you should call your prospective schools to inform them. The FAFSA is a way of determining how much money you “need” from outside sources to attend a particular college. The amount of need is based on both your financial information and the cost of the college. Additionally, it serves as a “trigger” for state and school funds, as well as scholarships, and grants. In other words, it gets the ball rolling.
It’s easiest to file online, although it can be completed on paper as well. There are a variety of features on this website, but eventually you will need to click on the “Start Here” button on the home page. Seniors and parents should set aside an hour or more to fill out this form. Most of it will need to be completed by parents. It’s very important that you check with your school to make sure that you’re aware of their FAFSA deadlines (some schools want the FAFSA as early as Jan 15) as well as other financial aid requirements. If you’re not sure or haven’t yet been accepted, you should file the FAFSA early and have it sent to your school.
An overview of the process in chronological order:
- The FAFSA is available starting October 1 of the calendar year before your son/daughter will begin college. The FAFSA will be based on your tax information from two years prior. For example, if your son/daughter is starting college in 2022, then you will use your tax information from 2020. – If you have filed your taxes, you may be able to utilize the data retrieval to transfer your financial information onto the FAFSA. This makes the FAFSA relatively quick.
- Pay very close attention to your school’s financial aid deadlines. Some schools require that the FAFSA is filed by January 15. In general, the earlier you file your FAFSA the more likely you are to receive aid.
- If you complete your FAFSA online, you will be required to login and sign with an FSA ID (a username and password). You will create this FSA ID before beginning the FAFSA.
- The FAFSA gets sent to the Central Processing System (CPS – a government agency) first. They determine, based on the information you provided, how much they expect your family to contribute to the cost of college. This number is called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
- You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within a few days if you filed your FAFSA online or within a few weeks if you filed on paper. The SAR will contain your estimated EFC. Review this for accuracy and make changes if necessary, according to the directions.
- The EFC is sent to the schools you listed at the end of the FAFSA. Schools may build a financial aid package around this number. For example, if your school’s cost of attendance (COA) is listed as $50,000 and your EFC was $20,000, your “need” is $30,000. The school may offer some or all of this demonstrated need through scholarships, loans, grants, and/or work-study programs.
- Schools will mail you an award letter detailing this information. Instructions from that point forward will be provided from each school. You may have time to compare each school’s financial package before you make your final decision regarding which school to attend. The deadline for your final decision is usually May 1.
Scholarship & Financial Aid Links