Father and daughter using laptop computer“In matters of complexity, not only are checklists needed, they are required for success.” This is the conclusion Atul Gawande came to while writing his book ‘The Checklist Manifesto.’  If polled, most families would agree that applying for financial aid can be complex. The checklist below will successfully guide your family through the application process; from researching requirements, to filing forms, to completing verification.

Research each school’s application requirements

Not all schools require the same forms or documents so it’s important to make sure you know exactly what you need to submit in order to fully apply for financial aid at each school. Check each school’s website to find out what you must complete/submit. These may include:

Research deadlines

Missing deadlines can mean missing out on scholarship or grant opportunities. It’s incredibly important to meet all deadlines. If you can apply earlier than the deadline, do so, as it may help you receive more financial aid.


  • Check the admissions and financial aid websites to find out the financial aid deadline.
  • Leave at least 3 days of  “processing time” when submitting your financial aid applications to ensure each school receives your form by the deadline.


  • To find your state deadline, visit the Federal Student Aid site here and select your state of residence and the school year
  • The Massachusetts financial aid deadline is May 1st, so make sure you’ve submitted your FAFSA by that date

File the FAFSA

Every student applying for financial aid will need to file the FAFSA. This is a FREE form and available beginning October 1st.

  • Create an FSA ID here – both the student and parent need one
  • Gather the documents you will need to complete the FAFSA for you and your parent(s)
    • SSN and date of birth for the student and parent(s)
    • Tax documents from two years prior
    • Asset information for students and parents (except retirement savings and home equity)
  • Complete the application at fafsa.gov
    • If offered the opportunity to link to the IRS website (using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT)), do so, as it will allow your tax information to auto-fill your FAFSA
    • List up to ten schools to receive your FAFSA data. Once submitted, you can log in to your FAFSA a few days later and add additional schools
  • After you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the Department of Education, which provides a summary of your FAFSA data
    • Check to make sure the information is correct

Submit other required financial aid applications

Some schools may require you to complete the CSS Profile or their own institutional financial aid form, in addition to the FAFSA.

  • CSS Profile
    • Visit the Profile website to access the Profile and view a list of schools that require it
    • The application, though similar to the FAFSA, asks for more detailed information about income and assets
    • There is a cost to apply, but you may qualify for a fee waiver based on your income
  • School’s financial aid application
    • Only a handful of schools require submission of their own financial aid application

Complete Verification (if required)

After submitting the FAFSA, you may be selected for something called Verification. This process requires colleges to verify the information you submitted on your financial aid applications. You could be selected by the Department of Education (your SAR will let you know if this is the case) or a college.  Each school will be in touch with you if you’ve been selected for Verification and the steps you need to complete, including submitting additional information or documentation.

  • If you used the IRS DRT when submitting the FAFSA, you are less likely to be selected for Verification, because your income data was already verified with your tax documents.
  • Make sure you respond in a timely manner to any requests from a school to complete Verification.
  • Many schools are not able to award financial aid until verification is complete.

Amy Staffier, Director of Financial Aid, Simmons CollegeAmy Staffier is the Director of Financial Aid at Simmons College in Boston where she serves their undergraduate, graduate, and online students. Prior to working at Simmons, she spent 21 years working in the Admissions and Financial Aid office at Harvard College, most recently as the Associate Director of Financial Aid, Admissions Officer, and University Director of the Federal Work-Study Program. Amy firmly believes in sharing the knowledge she has. She has spent the last 18 years volunteering her time helping families navigate the financial aid process through presentations at local high schools, FAFSA Day workshops, and simply sitting down one on one to personally walk them through applying for aid and comparing offers.