Financial aid can be a big help in paying for college. Apply for financial aid from a variety of sources in order to get as much assistance as you are eligible to receive. Financial aid is an annual process, and applications must be filed every year.
Not all financial aid is “free money”. When you receive financial aid, it may consist of any or all of the following types of ways to pay for college:
Work-study: Federal and institutional work-study programs allow students to work part-time on or near campus while in college.
Parent and Student Loans: Loans are available for parents and students and may come from the federal government or private lenders (including some colleges and universities).
Overview of Financial Aid
Source: The College Board, 2009 Trends in Student Aid
Different colleges and universities require different financial aid applications. Three of the most commonly used forms are the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, and the college’s own financial aid application.
The FAFSA is a federal form required by all colleges and universities for federal and state aid. It gathers income and asset information for both parents and the student, and provides some protection allowances to account for your family’s basic living and other expenses.
Calculating eligibility for financial aid starts with the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is based on the parents’ and student’s information as reported on the FAFSA, and is computed using a standard formula. The EFC formula is used to help distribute limited financial aid dollars as fairly as possible relative to students’ need.
Each college determines your eligibility for financial aid by subtracting your EFC from their Cost of Attendance (COA). The Cost of Attendance varies at each college or university and includes that school’s tuition and fees, room and board, and estimates for books and supplies, travel and personal expenses. If your EFC is not sufficient to pay the full Cost of Attendance, you have financial need.
How EFC Works
While the costs vary between colleges, each financial aid office will typically use the same EFC from your FAFSA as the basis for calculating eligibility for financial aid. Therefore, students may be eligible for more financial aid at colleges with higher cost of attendance. Colleges will use your EFC to determine your financial aid award.
First check with each college or university you’re considering to learn which financial aid applications are required and when they’re due. Download our Personal Resource Page to help you keep track of applications and deadlines.
The FAFSA can be filed each year beginning January 1. Before you file, you’ll need to complete preliminary steps to speed up processing.
Apply for a federal PIN for both the student and a parent. Your PIN acts as our electronic signature on the FAFSA and lets you access and update your information. Find the federal school codes for the colleges and universities where you’re applying. Each school has a unique 6-digit code, and you may send your information to as many as 10 colleges and universities.
Once you have a federal PIN for both the parent and student, you’re ready to apply. Filing the FAFSA online is faster, may simplify your application, and reduces errors.
If you are required to file the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, it must be filed online. Before you begin filing, you must register to become a member. Apply now for the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®.
Scholarships can be another useful form of financial aid. Search for free through a national online scholarship database.
Once you submit your applications, you will receive confirmations – a Student Aid Report (SAR) for the FAFSA and an acknowledgement report for the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®. These are records of your family’s information that was forwarded to college, so review each one carefully and make corrections or updates, if necessary.
After you’re accepted for admission at a college and have completed your financial aid application, you’ll receive a financial aid award letter. Carefully review each award letter and make sure you understand all aspects of your award, including the types and sources of aid. Contact the financial aid office if you need more information or clarification about their offer, and be sure to communicate with the college if your financial situation changes.
If you need additional funding to pay the bill, consider an interest-free monthly payment plan and explore MEFA’s loan options.