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Overview of the Financial Aid Process

How do I apply for financial aid?

  • You should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 of your senior year in high school. By completing this application you have applied for funds awarded by most federal and state agencies.
  • Applications are processed and results are sent to the colleges you listed on the FAFSA.
  • A link to your online Student Aid Report (SAR) will be provided to you three to five days after submitting your application if you did the FAFSA online and signed with your FSA ID. If you file your FAFSA on paper, processing can take 2 weeks.
  • Your school will then provide you with an award letter outlining types of aid for which you are eligible. Further instructions will be included in the letter. Use this worksheet to compare awards.
  • If the financial aid office has determined that you will need a loan, contact the financial aid administrator regarding the procedures to apply for federal loans. Also investigate private aid sources such as religious organizations, civic organizations and corporations.
  • Apply for other scholarships and grants for which you may be eligible outside of the college or university. For more information, talk with your high school counselor.

When her daughter was applying to colleges, Mary Crippen says that the financial aid offices provided excellent materials and online instructions about the aid process.

"I was able to complete the entire process online using the instructions without assistance from the financial aid office or paid outside consultants," Crippen says. "It did take some time to read through the instructions and go through the steps, though."

Crippen recommends keeping the family financial records organized for easy tax preparation. She also says it's important to keep track of deadlines for certain parts of the process.

Filing the FAFSA

Step by step:

  1. Use the FAFSA WHEN? Calculator to see when to file
  2. Complete the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet New window icon
  3. Register for your FSA IDNew window icon.
  4. Read 11 Common FAFSA Mistakes
  5. Use the FAFSA Transfer Module

Get Scholarships

Step by step:

  1. Find and save scholarship profiles in your portfolio
  2. Work to meet eligibility requirements
  3. Prepare essays and recommendations for each
  4. Apply to each