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January 10, 2020

Start - How to Apply for Financial Aid

Whether you are interested in scholarships, grants, federal work-study programs, and/or loans applying for aid is critical.  Quatromoney suggest that no matter what your income level, apply for both federal, state, and institutional aid at every college you apply to understand your paying for college options.  

Understand What is Needed When

To apply for aid, you need to know the forms and deadlines, especially if you want to maximize free money.  The federal form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used at every college that offers federal financial aid.  Each year, families can start applying as early as October 1st using the FAFSA. Most colleges and states have deadline associations with the timing of your college admission applications so that you can understand your financial aid eligibility at the same time as you decide whether to accept the offer of admissions.  If you are applying for regular decision as a first year college student, many colleges use a February 1st deadline.

The good news is that most states use the FAFSA in order to apply for all state scholarships, grants, and loans.  Also, some colleges use that same FAFSA to award institutional aid as well.  However, lots of colleges (and some states) still require additional financial aid forms.  

Nearly 400 colleges use the CSS Profile, a financial aid form for non-federal financial aid.  Here is the list of colleges using the CSS Profile.  Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile will cost you. It is $25 for the first college, plus $16 for each additional college. Do be aware that there are fee waivers for  low-income students.  Many of these schools may also require CSS Noncustodial PROFILE.  In addition, some college use the CSS Institutional Documentation Service, known as IDOC to ask and process additional financial aid application questions. Although multiple colleges use this form, each can create their own priority deadline dates.  

Other states and colleges use their own unique forms.  For instance, Pennsylvania has its own form for the Pennsylvania State Grant Program and Oregon’s Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC) has its own form to be considered for any of their state scholarships. So check with your state agency or your high school college counselor to ensure you know the form and deadline.  Many colleges have one or more forms that you need to complete to be eligible for specific merit scholarship funds or grant assistance.  

For more details on which forms are needed and deadlines, check out the admissions and financial aid websites for each college that you apply.

FAFSA is Key

The primary form that every college uses for federal, state, and even institutional aid is the FAFSA.  You can start applying for the next academic year’s financial aid as early as October 1st of the prior year. Here is what you’ll need:

  1. Create an FSA ID.  Both the parent and student need to use FSA ID to access the federal financial aid online systems. You’ll use this personal code for submitting the FAFSA  and submitting your legal signature on other federal financial aid documents as well. when you’re ready.  Just know it can take 1-3 days to complete the process.

  2. Gather the Personal Information.  You’ll need your social security number, alien registration number if you are not a US citizen, bank statements and records of investments, and records of untaxed income (if applicable).  Hopefully, you will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool in the FAFSA.  If not, you will need your federal income tax returns and W-2s for the prior- prior year.  
  3. Complete the FAFSA.  Experts say it takes 45-55 minutes to complete the FAFSA for the first time. Ensure you review your information before you submit the FAFSA so that you don’t have to make any corrections.

CSS Profile may be Essential

If you need to complete the CSS Profile, Quatromoney suggests that you complete the form at the same time you complete the FAFSA.  Why?  First, you need all the same personal information to complete the CSS Profile.  Second, you want to ensure that when asked about the same income and asset information, that you are reporting consistently.  Be prepared for more questions on the CSS Profile and IDOC if you own a house, have a business or farm, or have retirement funds.  One nice feature is that the CSS Profile also offers spot to add your extenuating circumstances and other explanatory comments.  Like the FAFSA, it usually takes 45-55 minutes to complete this form.  

Photograph of Colleen Krumwiede
Colleen Krumwiede
Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer

Colleen MacDonald Krumwiede is a financial aid and paying for college expert with over a decade of financial aid experience at Stanford GSB, Caltech, and Pomona College and another decade at educational finance and technology companies servicing higher education.  She guides go-to-market strategy and product development at Quatromoney to transform the way families afford college.

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