Parents Guide to Financial Aid
If you plan on going to college, odds are you’ll need financial aid. About 75% of full-time college undergrads utilize financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study programs, according to College Board. The financial aid process is paved with opportunities for mistakes and headaches. They can be avoided with proper planning.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (known as the FAFSA) is a form that can be prepared annually by current and prospective college students in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid.
All Students: File the FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov.
- Create a FAFSA ID
- Start filling out the application
Enter your personal information. This is information like your name, date of birth, etc. Make sure you enter your personal information exactly as it appears on official government documents.
Enter your financial information. You should use income records from current year information. If you or your parent(s) haven’t filed your current year taxes yet, you can always estimate the amounts using your prior year tax return; just make sure to update your FAFSA once you file your current year taxes. Once you file your taxes, you may be able to automatically import your tax information into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. It makes completing the FAFSA easy!
Enter up to 10 colleges. You can send your FAFSA data to 10 schools at once. Then, once the data has gone out you can click “Make FAFSA Corrections.” Remove some of the colleges listed on your FAFSA, add the additional school codes, and submit the corrections for processing.
- File as early as possible! (most colleges are due by February or March)
Unsure about what aid you may qualify for? Use the FAFSA4caster on the FAFSA website to get an estimate.
Students applying to private & out of state schools should file the CSS Profile. The College Scholarship Service Profile, is an application distributed by the College Board allowing college students to apply for financial aid. It is primarily designed to give private member institutions of the College Board a closer look into the finances of a student and family. It is much more detailed than the FAFSA.
- Register for the Profile
- Print or save the Pre-Application worksheet
- Complete the application
Gather the information below before filling out the Application:
Current year federal income tax return(s), if completed
Prior year federal income tax return(s)
W-2 forms and other records of money earned in current year
Records of untaxed income and benefits for prior and current years
Current bank statements
Current mortgage information
Record of savings, stocks, bonds, trusts, and other investments
Your noncustodial parent’s email address, if applicable
Comparing the CSS Profile with the FAFSA
In measuring your family’s ability to pay for college, the CSS Profile uses the Institutional Methodology (IM) instead of the Federal Methodology (FM), which is used on the FAFSA. Although the two systems are fundamentally the same—in both the IM and FM, the primary “drivers” that determine how much you will be expected to pay for college are income, assets, family size, and the number of children in college—the IM takes into account whether your family owns a home and assumes a minimum student contribution.
The CSS Profile contains questions specific to the schools you’re applying to, while the FAFSA is a standardized financial aid application designed to be used in conjunction with federal aid.
The CSS Profile allows financial aid counselors to take special circumstances into greater consideration.
If your family has experienced financial hardship that isn’t represented in your FAFSA or CSS Profile applications, you should consider writing a supplement and emailing it directly to financial aid offices.