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Apply for Aid

Updated 9/23/22

Once your teen has compiled her list of colleges and started working on her applications, it's time for parents to begin the process of applying for financial aid. 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 financial aid offices have available to disburse to students. 

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.  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. You can either use your tax forms to 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. Click here to learn more and be taken to the Data Retrieval Tool.

After you've completed and submitted FAFSA electronically, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within a few days 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 notification, he will also receive an award letter or email 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.


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