PAYING FOR COLLEGE
Applying for financial aid can connect you with immense resources for higher education. Though the forms are long and detailed, it is important to fill them out meticulously and submit them as early as possible.
The following timeline provides a rough overview of the financial aid application process. This is meant as an overview rather than a complete guide. We recommend that you seek additional information by talking with your guidance counselor and carefully reading publications from college financial aid offices.
We also recommend that you begin by reading our article on understanding financial aid. This document will give you a basic understanding of how things work.
- Create a schedule of admissions and financial aid deadlines, which may be different for each school to which you are applying. You can usually find this information on college websites in the section dedicated to admissions and financial aid.
- Attend a financial aid event to learn more about affordable ways you can pay for college.
- Explore scholarship information. Visit our scholarship resources page.
- Create profiles for yourself on services like FastWeb and Scholarships.com.
- Submit your early application if you are applying early action or early decision to a college.
- Fill out CSS Profile if applying early decision/early action.
- Submit regular college applications with deadlines in December.
- Find out whether the colleges you are applying to require forms other than the FAFSA. Many require the CSS Profile, which you can access from the College Board web site. Some colleges may also ask you to submit university- or state-specific forms for different aid programs. Be sure to note any associated deadlines.
- Submit regular college applications with deadlines in January.
- The FAFSA for the current year becomes available January 1st. Obtain a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from your school counselor or through the Department of Education Website.
- As deadlines require, submit applications for any private or outside scholarships you have identified.
- Be sure that you have submitted all required forms: the FAFSA, any private scholarship applications, the CSS Profile, and any state or campus forms required for specific financial aid programs. Completing your application early may be to your advantage.
- Watch the mail for your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is the Department of Education’s reply to your submitted FAFSA and summarizes your financial aid eligibility for any federal programs. The report often asks for corrections to your FAFSA, which you should submit promptly by mail or online.
- Receive admissions decisions from colleges.
- Receive financial aid offers and determine how much each college would cost you and your family, given your financial aid award. During this important decision-making period, college financial aid officers are available to counsel students and families. Call them if you have questions.
- Send your final transcript to the college you will be attending.
- If you will be applying for student loans, send loan applications to your chosen college. Low-income students often have financial aid packages composed primarily of grants. If you do have loans, a large portion will likely be federally subsidized, low-interest loans.
- Remain in communication with the college’s financial aid office to check on the status of your financial aid application, and make sure you have submitted all the necessary materials.
- Complete any remaining financial aid forms.
- Send thank you notes to the financial aid office of the college you will be attending.
- Consider applying for a summer job.