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National Application Center :: pay for college

Plan, explore, and apply to college using these great tools.
Steps to Financial Aid

Steps to Financial Aid

By the fall of your senior year in high school, you should have

Now you are ready to take the next steps.

For some students, having made their college choices and having determined based on the total cost of attendance that their families will not be eligible for financial aid based on demonstrated financial need, the next step is either to check out payment plans and/or non-need-based merit scholarships offered by colleges, or to look into non-need-based loans.

For the vast majority of you who are eligible for need-based financial aid, the steps below will help you apply for financial aid.

1. Find out and comply with each college's admission and financial aid application deadlines.

  • Don't jeopardize your chances for receiving aid by not filing applications on time. Use your personal calendar to keep track of the many deadlines.

2. Review your scholarship checklist and gather and complete the necessary forms; meet the deadlines.

3. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for aid through the federal government.

  • You can file the FAFSA anytime after January 1 of the year you will enter college, but we recommend you file it no later than February 15 (remember, using estimated income figures is allowed).
  • Be sure all the required signatures accompany the application.

4. If your college choices require copies of parent income tax forms, be sure to submit them as soon after January 1 as they are completed.

  • The federal government has two programs to reduce the amount of income tax owed by moderate-income families with students pursuing undergraduate study.
    • Hope Tax Credit: This plan is for families with students in the first two years of an undergraduate study program. A tax credit of up to $1500 per year can be claimed for each family member enrolled at least half time during those years. The amount of the credit is based on the family's income and is phased out at higher incomes.
    • Lifetime Learning Tax Credit: This credit applies to all eligible family members being claimed by the taxpayer and taking courses at an eligible school. Families can claim up to 20% of tuition and fees--up to a maximum of $1000 per entire family per year. This tax credit is phased out at higher income levels.

5. If required by your college choices, complete the College Board PROFILE application for financial aid.

  • Contact your colleges to find out if they are among those requiring the PROFILE application for financial aid (approximately 350 colleges nationwide).
  • PROFILE forms are available in your guidance office or from the colleges which require it.
  • Click here for more information about the PROFILE, to register for your customized application and to complete the application online if you wish.
  • Be sure all the required signatures accompany the application.

6. Complete any additional college-specific financial aid forms that may be required.

  • Contact your college for the college-specific financial aid forms.

7. Review the Student Aid Report (SAR) you'll receive on the basis of your completed FAFSA.

  • You should receive your SAR within four weeks of submitting the FAFSA. Look for the government's figure for expected family contribution and the listing of the data you supplied.
  • If you find any errors in your data, make the corrections and return the form as soon as possible so that your college choices receive the correct information.

8. Review the CSS Acknowledgment you'll receive once your PROFILE application has been processed.

  • Compare the acknowledgment's data confirmation section with the data you provided.
  • If you need to make changes or corrections to the PROFILE data, submit the changes directly to the appropriate college financial aid offices.
  • Review the list of colleges and programs that will be receiving the PROFILE data, and add additional colleges if you wish.

9. Review financial aid award packages

  • Be sure you know the deadlines for accepting your aid offers: you don't want to procrastinate the review past the deadline for getting any aid at all!
  • Review each award carefully.
  • If you receive more than one financial aid award, be sure to compare them.

10. Remember it's not just about the sticker price, the bottom line, and the grant/loan ratio.

  • Your college choice will have a tremendous impact on your future. You are beginning a lifelong intellectual, cultural, and social adventure. Choose wisely.