Next Steps

Applying for financial aid can seem like an overwhelming process. But if you take it step by step, it will be much more manageable.

First, contact schools or visit their Financial Aid websites to find out:

  • Scholarship requirements
  • Need-based aid requirements
  • Required forms (school applications, CSS profile — used for non-federal student aid, federal tax returns, etc.)
  • Financial Aid scholarships and deadlines (in addition to the application deadline) that are specific to each school

You should also investigate private sources and learn more about aid available from these sources.

You can get an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid at the FAFSA4caster.


Once you’ve done your research, you should fill out the the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used for determining financial aid eligibility at each school.

The FAFSA is filed electronically at and becomes available on October 1 of each year.

Information from the FAFSA is used to calculate the expected family contribution (EFC). This is the amount of money a student and his or her family may reasonably be expected to contribute toward the cost of the student’s education for the following academic year. The EFC is almost always higher than you think it should be!

  •  Largest source of grant aid
  •  Contact Financial Aid Office of school for requirements
  •  Merit and need-based aid
  •  Applications and deadlines


  • Get free information and help from the Financial Aid Office at the college you plan to attend, or the U.S. Department of Education (or 1-800-FED-AID). Free help is available any time during the application process. If an organization offers to help you through the process, and charges you a fee, it is a scam!
  • Get a Federal Student Aid ID, a personal identification number. An ID lets you apply, ‘sign’ your FAFSA, make corrections to your application information and more — so keep it safe. Go here to get your ID. Both a parent and student need an ID.
  • Collect the documents needed to apply, including income tax returns and W-2 forms (and other records of income). A full list of what you will need is at
  • Most colleges require that you file the FAFSA by January 1-February 1 for Regular Decision applicants. Apply as soon as possible after October 1 to meet school and state aid deadlines. Apply online at FAFSA on the web (the fastest and easiest way) by going to If you don’t already have your ID, you can get it when you complete the online FAFSA.
  • The U.S. Department of Education will you send you your Student Aid Report (SAR) — which is the result of your FAFSA. Review your SAR and, if necessary, make changes or corrections and submit your SAR for reprocessing. Your complete, correct SAR will contain your expected family contribution (EFC) — the number used to determine your federal student aid eligibility. IMPORTANT: Do not assume that the EFC number is the amount you will have to pay for college. It is simply a guideline for schools to assess how much need you have.
  • The college that you plan to attend may request additional information from you. Be sure to respond to any deadlines, or you might not receive federal student aid.
  • The colleges will tell you how much aid you can get at a particular school. Contact the Financial Aid Office if you have any questions about that aid being offered. Review award letters from schools to compare amounts and types of aid being offered. Decide which school to attend based on a combination of (a) how well the college suits your needs and (b) its affordability after all aid is taken into account.

One More Step: The CSS PROFILE

Many private colleges require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE form in addition to the FAFSA. You may register for the PROFILE online. Consult this site to determine which private colleges require submission of the profile. Some schools require the PROFILE to be submitted by November 1 of senior year.

If you have any questions about this process, please do not hesitate to reach out to Abby McKelvey, our guidance counselor.