How To Apply For Financial Aid For College3 min read

Applying for college is a long, multi-step process. Even after you get in, there remain many important questions, especially: how are you going to pay for college?

Never fear, that’s why College Compass is here! Applying for financial aid can be challenging, but a majority of students and their families undergo the process and receive assistance. There are two main categories of aid: public aid from the government, and private aid from other sources. Public aid can come from federal, state, or local governments. Private aid comes from private organizations such as banks or other associations interested in advancing education. The aid can come in the form of grants, scholarships, or loans. The first two forms may contain certain requirements to complete in order to receive the money, but do not require repayment of the funds after the educational activity is complete. Loans, on the other hand, require repayment, typically including some form of interest payment.

Despite there being many sources of funds, many of them follow the same application: the FAFSA, also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That’s right, it’s free… but it is a bit involved. The goal of the FAFSA is determine your Estimated Family Contribution, or EFC. This is the amount FAFSA expects your family will contribute to your education on annually based on their income and assets. Many scholarship programs, even those *not* associated with Federal or governmental student aid programs.

What does all this mean? Basically, if you want scholarships or loans, fill out FAFSA!!! It’s not an optional consideration. To start, go to FAFSA on the web at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. There you can either print out a version to work on by hand or submit your application electronically. You will want your parents or guardians involved as the application requires information from them about their resources to complete.

To complete the application, you will have to provide basic information about yourself, financial information about yourself, and financial information about your parents. For more detailed information, check out this FAFSA Worksheet, provided by FAFSA itself. Additionally, you will need to gather the following documents if applicable (list provided by FAFSA):

For the 2011-2012 school year you will need financial information from 2010. You may need to refer to:

  • Your Social Security card. It is important that you enter your Social Security Number correctly!
  • Your driver’s license (if any)
  • Your 2010 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • Your (and your spouse’s, if you are married) 2010 Federal Income Tax Return.
    • IRS 1040, 1040A, 1040 EZ
    • Foreign Tax Return, or
    • Tax Return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federal States of Micronesia, or Palau
  • Your Parents’ 2010 Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student)
  • Your 2010 untaxed income records
  • Your current bank statements
  • Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond and other investment records
  • Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

Yup! You really do need to have all that information! Remember, they *want* to give you money, but they also want to make sure the funds are going to the right person. After you have all your documents and the application, get to work! But, make sure to block out several hours potentially over the span of several weeks to complete the application. You will need a pin that FAFSA provides in order to access and complete the application. After you finish, make sure to save a copy of the full application as well as any documents you used for future reference. Remember, you will have to reapply for FAFSA *every year* you are in school and are interested in financial aid.

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