The Financial Aid process can be confusing and overwhelming at times. It is important to stay organized and on top of requirements and deadlines, and, most importantly, if you are unsure of something, ask questions!! The best sources for advice and information are usually the financial aid offices at the schools you are considering, and their officers will help you make sure you have all of the correct information and paperwork. You may want to consider attending the yearly financial aid program sponsored by the college counseling office. This is open to all grade levels and provides in depth and up to date information about the financial aid process.
There are two primary types of aid – need-based and merit-based. Merit-based aid comes in the form of scholarships and grants that are awarded to students based on their outstanding talents or achievements, be they academic, in the arts, athletic, or otherwise. Need-based aid is determined by a family’s financial need and their ability to afford and pay for college. The vast majority of aid now given by colleges and universities now comes in the form of need-based aid.
Need-based aid comes in the form of grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study. The amount of financial aid awarded is based on the difference between the cost of attending the institution and a family’s EFC, or Expected Family Contribution. The EFC is calculated by the government and financial aid offices based on a variety of financial information from the family. A family’s financial aid and need will vary with the costs of attendances and financial aid processes from school to school.
Most colleges require families to submit the FASFA. The FAFSA becomes available in December and is filed after January 1st. This form is completed online and must be submitted by the college’s deadline. A missed deadline can mean lost aid. See www.fafsa.ed.gov for forms and information.
Many colleges also require additional forms to complete the financial aid application. These can range from institution-specific forms to the CSS Profile, a form provided by College Board which requires a fee for each institution to which the report is sent. The Profile and additional information (including which schools use it) maybe found at https://profileonline.collegeboard.com.
Not all of a family’s important financial information will be covered by the necessary forms. Be prepared to submit tax information, and most importantly, be sure to communicate any additional information, unusual circumstances, or changes to your financial standing directly with the financial aid office. It is important to communicate and to be a self-advocate in this process!