If you or your child is currently in the midst of college applications, you’re aware that the sticker price of college is getting higher and higher. The good news is that there is financial aid available to those who qualify, and even relatively affluent families might be eligible. Even if you think getting aid is a long shot, it could be well worth your time and effort—possibly thousands of dollars per hour—to complete the financial aid paperwork. Sometimes families qualify for more than they expect!
The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As it says in its name, the FAFSA is free to file. And as long as you have your family’s tax returns and a few other pieces of information, it’s easy. You can even transfer a lot of your information directly from the IRS using their new data retrieval tool.
The filing window for the FAFSA opens October 1, and you should strive to complete it as early as possible. While the federal government allows a large time window, most colleges have deadlines in December or January, and some schools give financial aid priority to those who submit their forms first. Before you file, you need to decide which schools you or your child is applying to. You can list up to ten schools on your initial online application and can add more schools later.
After you complete the FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) with information about your family’s financial situation. Review this carefully, and make sure to correct any errors right away. On the front page of the SAR, you’ll find the expected family contribution (EFC), which is one factor schools use to determine the financial aid award. Though each school calculates it a little differently, the EFC gives an estimate of what your family can expect to pay for college that year.
The FAFSA is required to qualify for federal subsidized loans, so even families who don’t qualify for grants should complete it.
The CSS Profile
If you’re applying to a competitive private school, you’ll probably need to complete the College Board’s CSS Profile form as well. The Profile is an online application required by over 400 colleges, universities, and scholarship programs to receive financial aid outside of the federal government. The filing window opens October 1, and you should try to file no later than two weeks before the specific college’s priority filing date. There is a fee of $25 for the initial application and $16 per additional college.
As with the FAFSA, you’ll need your tax records to complete the Profile. You’ll also need many other financial forms, as the Profile is more involved (some might say more invasive) and delves deeply into your family’s financial situation. The Profile takes into account certain factors not included in the FAFSA, such as the net worth of your family’s home and/or small business, and three years of income instead of one. The Profile also includes a section where you can give a narrative explaining any extenuating circumstances that might not be reflected in the numbers alone.
Why two applications?
The FAFSA uses a federal methodology to calculate the EFC, regardless of the schools to which you’re applying. The Profile provides information that allows schools to use their own institutional methodologies to calculate a student’s aid package, which may vary from school to school.
The bottom line: Fill out every required aid application completely and accurately, before the deadline. If you do, your time and effort could be worth thousands of dollars per hour!
Financial aid forms checklist:
|___Choose schools||Before FAFSA|
|___Gather financial information||Before FAFSA|
|___File FAFSA||Opens Oct. 1, complete ASAP|
|___File CSS Profile||Opens Oct. 1, complete no more than two weeks before schools specific filing date|
|___Review Student Aid Report||Upon receipt of SAR (FAFSA)|