Where to Begin
Fill out FAFSA
To apply for any type of financial aid at any college in the United States, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is used to calculate how much your family can afford to pay for college.
This form is available from your high school guidance counselor or through www.fafsa.ed.gov. During your senior year of high school you should plan to submit your FAFSA application as soon as possible after January 1.
Tax return information
The FAFSA asks for information from your parents' tax returns. For you to submit the FAFSA form on time, your parents will need to complete their tax forms in January.
If you cannot obtain your parents' tax information, follow the special instructions in the FAFSA application.
If your parents cannot process their tax forms in January and their income has not changed significantly from the previous year, they can use the estimated tax information based on their previous year's forms.
Determining Aid and Eligibility
Based on the information you provide in the FAFSA, the federal government calculates your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). The federal government then creates a Student Aid Report (SAR) and sends it to you to review for errors. Once you sign and return it, your SAR is sent to all the colleges you listed on the FAFSA as schools you are interested in attending.
Each college that receives your information will use it to create a financial aid package based on your family's financial need. However, some of the colleges on your list will not have enough money to meet 100 percent of your financial need. Be sure to apply to a variety of colleges so that you can compare the financial aid packages you receive from each one.
All of the colleges to which you apply will use the SAR to determine your eligibility for the various types of federal financial aid, such as PELL grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Federal Work-Study (FWS), Stafford, Perkins and Parent PLUS loans. If you are interested in applying to college within New York state, the financial information you listed on your FAFSA will also be used to determine your eligibility for New York state financial aid opportunities like the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
Additional forms required by some colleges
Some colleges will require more detailed information about your family's financial situation than what appears in the FAFSA. They may also have you fill out their own financial aid form and/or the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile form.
Read the information you receive from colleges carefully so you know what is required. Unlike the FAFSA, you have to pay a fee for each college to which your CSS Profile is sent. Go to www.profileonline.collegeboard.com for more information on which colleges require this additional financial aid form.