Our RSS FeedFollow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook


HOME » ROADMAP » Pay for College » Apply for Aid

Apply for Aid

Updated 5/21/2024

In order to qualify for - and receive - financial aid, you need to apply for it through a process that is entirely separate from the college application process.  A universal first step is filling out FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Your answers to the questions on FAFSA determine your eligibility for federal aid, which makes up a significant portion of the money that college financial aid offices have available to disburse to students. 

The financial aid process is very complicated. What follows is a very brief overview of the steps required. 

1. Complete FAFSA Online

A good place to start is the "Filling Out the FAFSA" page on the Federal Student Aid website. It begins with a short video and then walks you through the components of the process. Plan on spending a lot of time on this form, and don't expect to get it all done in one sitting.

In a nutshell, you're asked to provide a great deal of information about the income and assets of the student and parents, using data from two years earlier (so the 2024-25 FAFSA asks for 2022 financial information). You can either input the data yourself, or, if you filed a U.S. tax return, you may be eligible to use the Data Retrieval Tool, whereby you link your electronic tax return to FAFSA and appropriate fields are automatically populated using your tax return data.

For 2024-25 you can list up to twenty colleges to send your FAFSA to if you're completing the form online. Colleges will receive the information within a few days of your submission of the form, but they only calculate an aid package for students who are accepted to the school.

After you've completed and submitted FAFSA electronically, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within a few days to a few weeks. It summarizes your information; check it for accuracy and correct any errors.

2. Complete College-Specific Forms

Colleges are required to use FAFSA to dispense federal financial aid. Schools that also dispense state and institutional aid may require you to complete other forms as well to determine how to distribute those funds. (One form that is used by a number of schools is the CSS Profile, which can be found on the College Board website.) Find out which forms each college requires on its Financial Aid web page—or call the financial aid office to find out.

Next, be sure to check the priority deadline for each college. Getting your application in by this date improves your chances of being awarded aid. Even better, try to get your application in well before the priority deadline; some money is disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you get your forms in, the more likely you are to get some.

3. Compare Aid Offers

At around the time your child receives notification that he has been accepted by a college, he will also receive a separate award letter or email detailing every component of his financial aid package (if you've applied for aid). Be aware that you can accept or decline any part of the offer, so you might choose to accept grants but decline loans. Once you’ve received award letters from all colleges, examine them carefully and compare what you’d pay at each college, including the terms of loans offered.  It might also be worth calling the financial aid office to ask what the likelihood is that your award for the years following freshman year will be comparable to the first year award. Finally, if your financial circumstances have deteriorated since you completed the FAFSA, you can ask the financial aid office to reconsider your award and you might get more aid. 

4. Send in Acceptance Forms

Don’t forget to send in your acceptance form to the financial aid office. You also need to notify the school of any outside scholarships your child has received, including any he gets after you’ve received the award letter. After that, you’re done—until next year. 

Key Point: In order to continue receiving financial aid, you need to complete a FAFSA for every year of college.

I'm not going to lie; applying for financial aid is a major headache, but there's a lot of money at stake, so it could turn out to be one of the best investments of your time you'll ever make.


Share & Print

  • Print
  • Email