Follow these steps when applying for financial aid:
- Contact the schools your child is applying to and determine what aid forms they require.
- Get clear on all deadlines for each school. They are different for each school so you'll need to be organized about this.
- Get a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form from the high school guidance counselor, the college financial aid office, or online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. This form is required in all circumstances. It is lengthy, so give yourself plenty of time to fill it out. Be aware that the Federal Government made several changes to the FAFSA process. These steps reflect those changes.
- The FAFSA form must be filed no later than June 30th of the year your child starts school. State and school deadlines may be as early as October 1 of the year prior to when your child starts school. Tardy applicants, many times, get fewer dollars.
- You'll need to calculate your earnings and income tax from two years prior. This is called the "prior-prior" tax year. For example, on the 2020-2021 FAFSA, students and/or parents will report 2018 income information. Keep your tax records up to date and have backup for all your amounts of income and deductions. It's a good idea to get organized and prepare to file by January 1 of a child's sophomore year of high school. This is an important step and a change from previous years, and accuracy counts.
- Reapply every year—this is a requirement. Your financial need goes up or down as income and assets change. Another good reason to be organized.
- If you get turned down, reapply next year. You may qualify then.
- After you submit the FAFSA, you will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR) which confirms the information you reported on your application and tells you your Expected Family Contribution—an amount your family is expected to contribute toward your child's education. Contact the college financial aid administrator at the schools your child is interested in attending. The financial aid administrator will review the SAR, calculate the cost of attendance, and subtract the amount your family is expected to contribute toward that cost. The difference is your financial need. He or she will put together a package of grants and loans that the school will offer.
Financial aid depends on a number of factors: how many children you have in college at the same time, the school, the availability of loan money, your income and assets, the student's assets, your family's medical bills, and a host of other variables.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you take out a home equity loan and you deposit the loan proceeds in a bank account, you will have to include that bank account on your financial aid application. This may reduce your chances of getting financial aid.
SUGGESTION: The less income you legally show on the application, the more aid for which you may qualify. As of October 1, 2016, the base year for calculating income is the full calendar year that begins during the sophomore year of high school (last half of sophomore year and first half of junior year). Plan to minimize your income during the base year.