At the heart of financial aid is the most important financial aid document, the FAFSA. Colleges offering federal financial aid require FAFSA. In other words, almost every college you are considering requires you to complete the FAFSA as part of the application process. College Financial Aid offices utilize the

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THE COLLEGE APPLICATION LABYRINTH: FINANCIAL AID


Introduction

Applying to college is synonymous with FAFSA, an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Basically, FAFSA is a superstar in the world of financial aid. Most colleges offering federal financial aid require you to file the FAFSA. In other words, almost every college you are considering will require you to file the FAFSA as part of their application process. College Financial Aid offices assign an index number (Expected Family Contribution) to you based on the information you provide in your FAFSA. The index number determines if you are eligible for federal student aid. To begin the FAFSA process you must create an FSA ID to access the Federal Student Aid’s online systems. Visit https://fafsa.ed.gov for FAFSA signup and submission. We have compiled a list of FAFSA terms, as well as, our top 10 tips to kickstart your financial aid submissions because financial aid plays such an important role in the college application process.

Financial Aid Terms

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The following is a quote from Federal Student Aid, fafsa.ed.gov, defining FAFSA , Free Application for Federal Student Aid. “To apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work-study, and loans, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school. In addition, many states and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid, and some private financial aid providers may use your FAFSA information to determine whether you qualify for their aid.”

College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile

The College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile was developed by College Board and requires more detailed financial information than the FAFSA. The majority of schools requiring the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile are private colleges. If a college requires the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, they will use both the FAFSA and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile to determine if you qualify for financial aid.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The following is a quote from Federal Student Aid, fafsa.ed.gov, defining Expected Family Contribution. “Your EFC is an index number that college financial aid staff use to determine how much financial aid you would receive if you were to attend their school. The information you report on your FAFSA is used to calculate your EFC.” See “What’s the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?” for more details. For additional information about EFC, read the EFC Formula guide available at Federal Student Aid.

Cost of Attendance (COA)

The following is a quote from Federal Student Aid, fafsa.ed.gov, defining Cost of Attendance. “Your COA is the amount it will cost you to go to school. Most two-year and four-year colleges will calculate your COA to show your total cost for the school year (for instance, for the fall semester plus the spring semester). Schools with programs that last a different period of time (for instance, an 18-month certificate program) might give you a COA that covers a time period other than a year.” See “What does cost of attendance (COA) mean?” for more details.

Financial Need

To determine your eligibility for financial aid, your school will calculate your financial need by subtracting your Expected Family Contribution from your Cost of Attendance. Depending on your financial need you may or may not qualify for need-based aid.

Need-Based Aid

There are several federal student aid programs such as Federal Pell Grants and Federal Work-Study that provide need-based aid. Click here for a complete list of need-based federal student aid programs.

Non-Need-Based Aid

Your non-need-based aid is calculated by subtracting all of the financial aid you have been awarded from your Cost of Attendance. There are several federal student aid programs such as Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Federal PLUS Loans that provide non-need-based aid. Click here for a complete list of non-need-based federal student aid programs.

Financial Aid Tips

1. Begin researching your financial aid options early.

2. Understand how FAFSA works, it is the most important financial aid document.

3. Before you begin filling out your FAFSA, gather your financial documents together.

4. Complete a trial run of the FAFSA to calculate your financial aid eligibility.

5. Beware! The FAFSA takes a long time to complete online.

6. Determine the required financial aid documents for the colleges you plan to apply to.

7. Record all financial aid submission due dates on your calendar.

8. Ask your parents/guardians if they started a college savings fund for you. If they did, determine how it affects your financial aid.

9. Discuss financial expectations, contributions, and obligations with your parents/guardians.

10. Use our search tips to find more information.

Conclusion

Navigating the financial aid labyrinth is a daunting task. We highly recommend downloading the free ebook, “Filing the FAFSA” by Mark Kantrowitz and David Levy (Edvisors), because it provides guidance to help you file the FAFSA. For additional information about financial aid and scholarships, visit College Pencilpedia. For more great tips with a step-by-step approach for completing your college applications, purchase “The Ultimate College Application Guide” on Amazon today.

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