Don't Miss These 10 Financial Aid FAQs
It's time to apply for financial aid, and in doing so you might come up with a question or two about the applications, the process, or your own eligibility. We reviewed our comments from last year's grade 12 parents, and pulled together our most frequently asked questions in one list. Questions might refer to the FAFSA, the financial aid application required by every college and university, or the CSS Profile, the application used, in addition to the FAFSA, by roughly 200 schools and scholarship agencies. Regardless of which forms you need to complete, review our guidance below before you get started.
Q1: Do I need to complete the applications all in one sitting?
A1: No, both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile allow you to start the application and stop at any point, saving the answers you're inputted so far so they're ready for you when you come back to the application later.
Q2: How and when do we get the FSA ID?
A2: The FSA ID is the username and password you will need to start the FAFSA. You can set one up at studentaid.gov/fsa-id, and you can do so anytime, even before the FAFSA becomes available. We recommend that you go ahead and get your FSA ID as soon as possible, so you're ready when you sit down to complete the FAFSA. Both the student and one parent will need an FSA ID.
Q3: Who requires the CSS Profile?
A3: Roughly 200 colleges, universities, and scholarship agencies require the CSS Profile for financial aid, and you can find a pretty comprehensive list on the CSS Profile site here. A handful of schools that require the CSS Profile don't appear on this list, so be sure check each college or university's financial aid webpage to find out the applications that they require.
Q4: Can we apply for financial aid if the parent does not have a Social Security number?
A4: As long as the student is a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen, your family can apply for financial aid. Any parent without an SSN won't be able to obtain an FSA ID, which is the username and password needed to electronically sign the FAFSA, so the parent will need to instead print a signature page when the family completes the FAFSA, and mail it to the address indicated.
Q5: We, the student's parents, are divorced and have joint custody of the student. Who should complete the financial aid applications?
A5: Both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile instruct that the parent with whom the child lives the most should complete the financial aid applications (along with that parent's current spouse, if there is one). If the child lives equally with both parents, the parent that provides the most financial support for the student should complete the applications. If that's pretty even as well, you'll just have to select one parent over the other. Keep in mind that any schools that require the CSS Profile may also require the other parent to complete his or her own CSS Profile. Check with each college for requirements.
Q6: How does my 529 college savings account affect our chances for financial aid?
A6: There's good news here. Your 529 account savings will be considered as a parent asset on your financial aid applications, and the financial aid formula assumes that only, at most, 5.6% of parent assets can be used for college. That means the vast majority of your college savings is "protected" in the financial aid formula, and won't have any impact on your eligibility for aid.
Q7: Can you provide a timeline for what happens after we apply?
A7: First, you want to make sure you apply for financial aid by the deadlines required by the schools where the student is applying (check each school's financial aid webpage for that date). Then you can reference our summary here for what happens after your applications are submitted.
Q8: If I fill out both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, do I get two financial aid packages?
A8: No, colleges that require both applications will look at the information that you submit on both forms together, and use it to provide you one financial aid package.
Q9: Where can we find an SAI Calculator?
A9: Our SAI Calculator can be found online here. The tool provides an estimate of your SAI, or Student Aid Index, the number that financial aid offices will use to determine your eligibility for financial aid.
Q10: Are there websites we might find helpful in this process?
A10: Besides fafsa.gov and cssprofile.org, which you'll need to complete your applications, you can reference studentaid.gov for information about federal financial aid, mass.edu/osfa for information about Massachusetts state financial aid, and our site, mefa.org, for financial aid tips.
Need more information about financial aid? Watch our Financial Aid 101 webinar, which provides a helpful overview of the entire process. View it online anytime.