The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the primary form used by colleges to determine eligibility for need-based aid. A small number of colleges will not even consider an applicant for merit aid unless that student has first submitted a FAFSA. The FAFSA should be filed as soon as possible after October 1st of the student’s senior year of high school, and then yearly while attending college. The FAFSA collects basic information about both the students’ and their parents’ incomes and assets, and uses this information to determine an expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount that the student and family is expected to contribute towards that individual’s college expenses during the next academic year. The difference between the EFC and the total cost of attendance at your college of choice is known as demonstrated need. Colleges use this information to prepare a customized financial aid package for each admitted student who qualifies for financial aid.
The package may include both grants and loans, as well as self-help such as work-study opportunities. Only some colleges guarantee to meet 100% of demonstrated need, so financial aid may not cover all of your expenses at a particular college.
Complete the FAFSA online at https://studentaid.gov. You’ll need your 2021 tax return and other financial records noted on the site. You’ll also want to apply for a Federal Student Aid ID (FSAID) for both student and a parent so you can sign your form electronically.
Families of underclassmen as well as current seniors can get an early estimate of eligibility for aid by completing the Federal Student Aid Estimator available at the same site noted above. This tool will also provide information about other sources of financial aid for college.