Understanding the College Financial Aid Application Process

The first thing you need to know is that it’s not a good idea to sit back and relax while waiting around to get into college unless you have already completed BOTH the entire financial aid application process as well as applying to all the colleges you’re interested in attending. TONS of students make the mistake of only applying for one or the other (just applying for college, or just applying for financial aid) and then waiting around until the last minute to apply for the other. You’ve got to do both as early as you can and it will increase your chances of being accepted as well as getting the financial aid you need. Now… Colleges FIRST review the financial aid requests that are received from students who have already been admitted to the college. So, this means you should apply for the colleges you’re interested in as soon as you can (before applying for financial aid) and then apply for financial aid as soon as you’re allowed to do that. Later on in this article we will provide you with important dates and timelines for your specific state of residence.

There is no arguing the fact that applying for government education grants and loans can feel like a huge process, and an exhausting one, but it’s honestly not that bad. Just go over the information on this page a few times and speak to your Financial Aid Advisor (FAA) if you have any questions… Before you know it the process will start to make a lot more sense.

Step 1: Filling Out The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Sometime between January 1 and March 1 you and your parents should fill out and submit the FAFSA so that you will be able to qualify for financial aid funding in September of the same year. All you really need is basic information about yourself, as well as your parents TAX RETURN from the following year in order to fill out the application. Your parents’ cut-off date for filing their tax return is April 15, but you will want to make sure that they don’t wait that long in order to file their return because it will be too late. You have to submit your FAFSA by March 1st at the latest so talk to your parents way before then and be sure they get their return filed in February at the latest.

Step 2: Going Over the Student Aid Report
Four to six weeks after submitting the FAFSA you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which will tell you what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is, and let you know whether or not you qualify for a Pell grant. Your EFC is calculated based on a number of variables such as your family’s household income, the size of your family, the number of siblings you have that are or will be attending college, assets, and whether you are a dependent or independent. Because the cost of attendance (COA) is different for every college your EFC will be different for each college.

Step 3: Count Your Chickens
The next step is to go over the letter(s) you will receive from the college(s) you’ve applied to or are already attending, which will tell you how much financial aid you qualify for. If you initially receive a rejection letter from the college you want to go to you can still negotiate an offer.

NOTE: Remember that income is only one of the criteria that colleges base your need for financial aid on. One of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to be “poor” in order to qualify for aid. Most of the time if a college’s COA is higher than whatever your family can pay (based on your EFC) you will qualify for financial aid to some degree.

NOTE: Don’t believe rumors that the amount of financial aid being made available to students is dwindling. Every year more and more tax payer money is being made available to pay for education.

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