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Apply for Aid

Updated January 13, 2016

When the last college application has been sent in at the end of December, take a moment to celebrate – and then it’s time to start filing the federal financial aid paper work. January 1 is the first date that FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, can be filed, although you can work on it before then. Here’s a brief overview of the financial aid application process.

1. Complete FAFSA Online

To complete the FAFSA, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and click on the Start a New FAFSA button. Fill in the required questions and designate up to ten colleges to be sent your FAFSA information. After you've completed and submitted your form electronically, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) in return that 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. 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 his acceptance letter, he will also receive an award letter detailing every component of his financial aid package. 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 all award letters, 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.

Online Resources:

Your Financial Aid Award Explained. College Board article

Student Aid on the Web: U.S. Department of Education website. 

FAFSA Overview Video: This is a great place to start. It's a brief, thorough introduction to the financial aid application process and FAFSA.  Provided by the Federal Student Aid website, Studentaid.gov. 

 

 

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