Financial Aid Basics

We’ve posted longer articles about college financial aid, but in this post, I just want to cover a few quick points:

  1. There are 2 kinds of financial aid:  NEED-BASED aid and MERIT-BASED aid.  Need-based aid is based on a government formula that will determine how much you can afford, based on your income and assets.
  2. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step towards applying for need-based financial aid.  When you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll get a reply within a few days which will tell you the result of the formula, which is called your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This is the amount you are expected to contribute towards your child’s education EACH YEAR.
  3. The FAFSA (and the CSS Profile, see below) both open for your senior’s class on October 1 of their senior year of high school. DO NOT BEGIN the FAFSA process before then.  It’s open for the class ahead of you!
  4. Both the student and the parent will need to create an FSA ID first.  Then you can create and access your FAFSA account.
  5. You can get a feel for what your EFC might be (it’s almost always higher than you think it should be) by using this practice calculator on the College Board’s website.  You can do a “practice run” of the FAFSA by printing out a paper copy, reviewing the instructions and entering your numbers.  READ THE DIRECTIONS!  The real FAFSA should take you less than an hour.  Here’s a list of the things you’ll need to fill it out.
  6. About 250 colleges require an additional document called the CSS Profile, which probes more deeply into your family’s financial situation.  Your EFC at colleges that require the CSS Profile may be higher than at colleges that use only the FAFSA.  Check to see if any of the colleges on your list require the CSS Profile here.
  7. Your need will be different at different colleges, because need is the total cost of a college (tuition + room & board + transportation + books + other expenses).  You may not have a demonstrated financial need at one college (in-state public, for example), but you may have demonstrated need at another. 
  8. You’ll need to set up an FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID to get started.  Both the student and the parent need their own FSA ID.

This other post has much more information about college financial aid, but the above was just to get you started!

Best of luck on your journey navigating the college admission process!  Let us know if we can help.


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