Financial Aid Process
The entire concept of financial aid can seem hard to understand, but, for most students, it's needed to help pay for college. To make it more manageable, try breaking it down into these steps.
Steps to Financial Aid
Set Your Budget
Based on your intended career or program of study, set your budget for college. Research your first year's starting salary and understand that if you have to borrow to cover college costs, your borrowing should not exceed your first year's starting salary. Determine the amount of money you have available from savings and investments that can go toward college over the next two to four years. This savings can reduce your borrowing amount and provide flexibility in the schools that you can afford to attend.
Get an FSA ID
Get an FSA ID from the U.S. Department of Education. An FSA ID, or Federal Student Aid Identification, can be used to electronically sign or update the FAFSA form. If you are anxious about how your financial aid is coming together, you can also use your FSA ID to check the status of your application online.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submit it. Learn more about the FAFSA and why everyone should file the form each year.
Student Aid Report (SAR)
The U.S. Department of Education creates a Student Aid Report (SAR) to summarize the information you provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should get your SAR about two weeks after filing the FAFSA. Spend some time looking over the information to make sure it's right. Your student aid report provides your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which helps each college calculate your eligibility for financial aid. Learn more about the EFC process.
The government chooses one out of every three FAFSA applications for verification. If your application is chosen, don't panic. You simply need to send in the paperwork that the school asks for (usually copies of signed tax returns, completed verification worksheets and additional documentation). Do it as soon as possible so your financial aid can be processed. No aid can be disbursed until verification is complete.
Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Search for private scholarships and grants. Remember, this money will not need to be repaid, so any you receive will reduce your need for additional financial aid. Start your search.
Review and Compare Award Letters
Review award letters from different schools to understand and compare the different financial aid packages. Use your college budget from step one to determine if a college package is affordable for your future plans. Use your estimated starting salary as your borrowing limit for your entire degree. Learn about award letters and the review process.