Financial Aid Process

Every year, millions of students rely on student aid to help pay for their college education. Unfortunately, the process can be confusing and time-consuming. Most students are eligible for at least some aid. Here's a quick overview to help you understand how student aid works.

You prepare a student aid application.

Most aid starts with the FAFSA – a form that asks many household income, asset, and dependency questions. You do not have to file your income taxes before you complete your FAFSA. It's okay if you estimate earnings based on your previous year's income just to get your FAFSA into the system early. That way, your place in the student aid line is secure. Later, when you file your federal income taxes, you can revise your FAFSA with final numbers.

Each college determines your aid eligibility and award amount based on the information you provide on your FAFSA. Competition for aid is fierce, and most of it is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Be sure to work with your TuitionHelp™ Student Aid Advisor to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st so that you don't miss out on any student aid! Many state and college programs also require additional forms, so be sure to check with your financial aid administrator.

The federal government calculates your EFC.

The federal government doesn't tell you how much aid you will receive – colleges do. The federal government calculates your EFC, which is the amount you are expected to pay toward your education expenses. Your EFC and each college's published cost of attendance (also called the "sticker price") determine your financial need, eligibility, and award amounts.

Remember, your EFC is not necessarily the amount of money you must come up with immediately to pay for college. Funding sources such as student loans and employer reimbursement can offset your net ("out-of-pocket") cost. Loans are also a great way to cover any upfront expenses (e.g., books, supplies, tuition, etc.), especially if you are waiting for your employee reimbursement to be processed. But remember, loans must be repaid after you leave college.

Your need is determined.

Some aid is based on merit, but most aid is based on "need," which means that you must demonstrate financial need to be eligible. Your financial need is calculated based on your EFC and the published cost of attendance for the colleges to which you apply.

Colleges access your information.

Once your student aid application is processed, administrators at the colleges that have accepted you will access the personal and financial data you provided on your FAFSA to determine your student aid eligibility and award amounts.

Colleges determine your eligibility and award amounts.

Colleges determine aid awards based on your need and how much aid they have to offer. You will receive a financial aid award letter from each college that accepts you.

You should apply early for student aid every year. Nearly everyone is eligible for some type of aid, and millions of students apply for the billions of dollars available. Don't get left out. If you want to get the most aid possible, you should apply as close to January 1st as you can. Additionally, most federal, state, and college aid programs require that you reapply for aid each year.

To apply for student aid, contact a TuitionHelp™ Student Aid Advisor for help with understanding the process and completing the FAFSA application.